Why Do I Need To know That?

The internet is a strange place. It’s a place with no end. For every piece of information that is consumed, there are many more being created. Some of it is great: I’m currently studying a Law degree, and a lot of the course resources are online. There is a wealth of knowledge out there and some people are using their talents well. But how do we distinguish between what is  good content and what is not? Usually, the line is quite obvious, but a lot of time time we have no way of telling whether someone’s story is true or not. Of course, we could take the time to do our own research, but with so many other pieces of information being thrown in front of our eyes every second, who has the time for research?!

There is a real issue regarding what people think is appropriate to share with others. Often, they cannot differentiate between something worthwhile sharing, and information that is of little value to the rest of us, or even still that is distasteful and harmful. On Tuesday they may share something insightful about the refugee crisis, and on Wednesday they’ll post 26 photographs of their breakfast. Readers are constantly having to filter the information we retain.

The problem has spilled over to more traditional forms of information sharing. For example, I have an acquaintance (who, for their own sake shall remain anonymous) who often buys The Daily Mail. A day or two ago, I noticed the second story on the front page was about a GP who was taken to court for spanking her ‘lover’. Here’s a link to the online version: 50 Shades of Grey and a spanking that left tycoon dialling 999 and his GP lover in court after she left him covered in dozens of bleeding welts Read past the headline and you will note that the lady in question is no longer a GP (mentioning that fact in the headline would have reduced the scandal level, so we’ll not mention it until later), and she was acquitted of any wrongdoing. So what have I learned? That a man and woman I had never heard of, and am likely never to hear of again, enjoyed what some would call an adventurous sex life. At the time of writing, the online article has been shared 669 times, and 127 comments have been left. Include those who haven’t shared or commented, and the readership of the Daily Mail in hardcopy form, and you have thousands of people walking around the UK in the knowledge that these two people shared a sexual fetish.

The same day, I had a catch-up with another friend whom I hadn’t seen in a few months. There was a lot that had happened in our lives during that time that the other wasn’t aware of. And all I could think about was the fact that I had such intimate knowledge of two absolute strangers, but no clue what my friend had been up to for the past 9 weeks. It made me realise that I need to become a better curator of information. The media world and the internet world will always provide us with more information than we can handle. It’s up to us to choose how much of it we let in. More effort should be spent with our flesh and blood friends. Okay, it does actually require the effort any active engagement should, rather than being a passive receiver of the constant stream of information on a screen. But would I rather know how my friend is or how some millionaire’s sex life has panned out? The internet has made the world a smaller place. We can learn so much about other cultures and about other individuals. We can meet our future husband or wife online. But unless we become effective curators, it can make our own lives very small. We end up knowing too much about people we have never met, and not enough about those closest to us.

“Take what works and leave the rest,” is a phrase I hear quite a bit these days. And maybe that’s how we should treat the internet. A lot of it works well: online shopping is great for people like me who live in a rural location. Social media is good for keeping in contact with loved ones who are geographically distant. We can learn a great many things through the internet. Make use of it. But leave the rest. Leave what is toxic, leave what is unnecessary. And at times, just leave it altogether. Get up, go outside and meet a friend. Laugh with someone instead of laughing in your own head at a screen. When we are old and grey, we won’t marvel at all the great times we spent in our rooms scrolling through pages on the internet, but rather the real-life occasions we shared with good friends. And on that note….it’s a beautiful day today, I’m going out now to enjoy it.

Choose Happiness?

“Happiness cannot be pursued, it must ensue, and it only does so as the unintended side effect of one’s personal dedication to a cause greater than oneself or as the by-product of one’s surrender to a person other than oneself.”

~ Victor Frankl, Man’s Search for Meaning

It is difficult to miss Coca-Cola’s new advertising campaign, encouraging us all to ‘Choose Happiness’. The company invites us to take photos of us doing things that make us happy and upload them with the hashtag #choosehappiness. They’ve set up 300 ‘happiness meters’ across London in an aim to somehow make people in London happier (public transport that actually works would probably be more effective in turning London’s frowns upside down). It seems as though every other advert on my television invites me to ‘choose happiness’ as I watch dozens of beautiful young things with perfect teeth holding bottles of Coke to remind me just how happy I could be if I bought a bottle myself.

They’ve even done a Happiness Research Study (ensuring to note at the very beginning that they cannot guarantee “that the information in the report is correct, accurate, complete or non-misleading…”). Parts of the study are admirable. Young people, for example, are apparently less interested in seeking happiness through material goods than previous generations. They are more interested in going out and experiencing life. Instant thumbs up from me. The report encourages us not to make our happiness dependent on those outside of ourself because if we do, we’ll spend our life constantly chasing it, never actually obtaining it.

So what’s my issue with the campaign? Firstly, it is that happiness is still being treated as an end-product, something we should have, something we can choose to have. The survey claims that 96% of teens have tried doing things in the past year just to feel happy. And it seems like Coca-Cola want this figure to be 100%. But if we look at this figure and put it alongside figures of teenage depression rates, teenage alcohol and drug consumption, what are we telling ourselves? Only that we have a nation of unhappy teenagers who are desperately seeking happiness by any means. That, surely, is a recipe for disaster.

My second issue is that it perpetuates the notion that MY happiness is the most important thing in life. The parents of previous generations wanted their children to contribute to society, to do good. Now all we hear is, “As long as you’re happy. Do more things that make you happy”. Nothing is mentioned of the consequences of that. The questions ‘how will my happiness affect others? Is my desire for happiness a selfish one? Will it hurt others in the process? Will I let my friend down because lying in bed, eating pizza will make me happier than helping them wash his car, even though I promised I would help?’ are seldom asked.

The campaign uses buzzwords like ‘instant fun’ and ‘living in the moment,’ and when the idea of goodness does get a mention, it is only to tell us that ‘doing good feels good’. Don’t do good things because they are good. Don’t do good things if they cause you any difficulties. Do good when it makes you feel good. Give to charity and revel in how good it makes you feel. Volunteer in an animal shelter and then take to social media to tell everyone how great it feels. Take a photo of you helping your elderly neighbour cross the road (don’t forget to include your bottle of Coke in the picture!), upload it to Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Tumblr and wait for the notifications to roll in, telling you what a good person you are.

I would urge you then, not to choose happiness, but to choose goodness for the sake of goodness. Choose wisely. Choose things that are worthwhile. Choose a positive outlook on life, because that is what will make the real difference. I will leave you with a beautiful little animation which to me illustrates the perils of trying to ‘choose happiness,’ and shows that by doing something worthwhile for others a little bit of happiness will often come your way as an unintended side effect.