Issue 14: When Self-Optimization Fails Us
View this email in your browser

Issue 14: When Self-Optimization Fails Us

Part of the wonder of the Internet is that it can act as an endless trove of helpful information: it provides us with data in order to make better decisions and gives us access to resources, information, and how-to tips like never before. Self-optimization, biohacking, and essentially making ourselves into the most efficient, productive version of ourselves, has never been more popular. 

But what is the point of optimizing ourselves if it's really just making us miserable? What does it mean for Tavi Gevinson to ponder who she would be without Instagram on NY Magazine, a platform that makes ad dollars from constantly recommending products to make your life easier? Is the tech backlash just one that exists in our heads, one that we bemoan for likes on our own social media accounts?

In this issue of The Slow Scroll, we explore the challenges of self-optimization culture and interview French artist Anna Broujean, who regularly shuts her phone off for long periods of time. 

Silicon Valley Goes To Therapy...

When we self-optimize too much and spend every waking minute thinking about how we can 'crush it', it's natural that stress follows trying to adhere to the 'tyranny of the ideal' (a phrase made famous by essayist Jia Tolentino). Silicon Valley employees are suffering, too, from anxiety, and as a result they are ironically founding a slew of new therapy apps and startups to combat the demons that they've created. 

Optimizing mental health certainly seems like a noble cause, but there are caveats with it. For example, according to postdoctoral researcher at New York University, Elizabeth Kaziunas, “There’s no guarantee or legal protections built in...This mental health data could be bought or sold.”

But if therapy is about slowly analyzing your problems with a person in real life, what does it mean to optimize the process through apps and automation?

Pay Attention, Don't Seek It 

What Instagram and other social media apps train us to do is to seek attention. "It's a powerful feeling," actor Joseph Gordon-Levitt admits in his recent Ted Talk (well worth the entire 13 minutes to watch). But by seeking attention and caring too much about what others think, we may be sacrificing our creativity:

"The more I go after that powerful feeling of paying attention, the happier I am. But the more I go after the powerful feeling of getting attention, the unhappier I am... I'm not here to tell you that technology is the enemy of creativity. I don't think that. I think tech is just a tool. It has the potential to foster unprecedented human creativity."

So the next time you're feeling like you're in a rut, remember that it's easy to shift where and to what you give your attention—perhaps to the person or whatever is right in front of you.

Interview: Club Sandwich Founder, Anna Broujean

This week, we chat with Anna Broujean, a French artist who regularly goes on digital detoxes. She is also the founder, editor in chief and art director of the paper magazine Club Sandwich

Where's your happy place?
I don’t do it enough, but I love to catch a movie early afternoon during the week. It’s a really relaxing interlude.

When did you decide to start digital detoxing?
After a busy year, I started to get anxious, depressed, overwhelmed. Just a general feeling, not over a specific thing. 
Hearing notifications on my phone, checking "what was going on" became stressful. It sometimes felt like I had no control over what I was seeing, and that I was fed information I didn’t really want to know about. One day, my phone died and I couldn’t find my charger. And I just didn’t turn it back on for a few weeks. 
How did your digital detoxes go?
I’ve done it a few times and it’s always a huge relief. I could go without a phone for a really long time but it gets annoying for my friends who want to get in touch with me. You realize really early on that you actually don’t need a phone most of the time and that we rely on it more than we should. Everyone is so connected nowadays, you’re immediately put in an observer position that I found to be very freeing.

I hate feeling that I’m reachable all the time and people are expecting an immediate reply. I hate that I don’t check in so much with my friends because I follow them on social media - definitely not the same thing. I hate having no control in what I’m seeing on Instagram.

So I took action to feel better once I turn it back on: I turned off all the notifications, I muted or unfollowed every person that didn’t make me feel good or that I didn’t have an actual genuine interest in, I wrote more personal emails. 

"One day, my phone died and I couldn’t find my charger. And I just didn’t turn it back on for a few weeks."

How do you think social media or the digital world impacts your art? 
I have to use social media a lot for Club Sandwich. When you spend so much time researching, seeing so many portfolios, I’m not going to lie, it gets depressing.

You see the same things over and over and over again: same motifs, same materials, same way of talking about it, there’s nothing personal. That’s something every generation of artists has been dealing with: they are trends within the art world, but art history only remembers one or two artists, usually not the first one to come up with something or the best one... but the best connected I guess?

I think I have a problem with the whole "my art is an extension of me" phenomenon that surrounds self-promotion on social media. The validation that comes from how many likes you get for that or that piece is also problematic - especially if that "feedback" influences the direction you’re then working in. The way social media works makes it difficult for artists to keep perspective and be patient, but really, most of the things you do before you’re like, 40, is kind of shitty - and it’s perfectly normal. It’s a learning curve: you try, it’s bad, you try again, it’s a bit better, etc. You need time to experiment, to find what makes your work unique, to grow as a person first.

What tips would you offer our audience on how to have a healthier relationship with tech?
I’d say just be mindful of what triggers you. There’s not a magical formula, everyone’s different; it’s like a love relationship: some things work for some people and others don’t at all. But paying attention to what makes you feel bad and removing it little by little helps.

Having to check my phone a lot during the day gave me a lot of anxiety, so I removed all notifications and only check it when I feel like it, not when it tells me to. But also: please put your phone back in your pocket when you’re with your friends. No email is that important.

Thank you Anna! And as always, thank you for your attention. At the Slow Scroll, we always welcome feedback, prompts, and tips. Maybe tell us your own experience with self-optimization? Just email us.
Psst! Send this to a friend who needs to slow down to share our mission. Then grab a cup of coffee with them. 

Why ‘The Slow Scroll’?

Social Isolation is Killing Us. Tech companies are failing us. And we’re all hopelessly addicted to our screens.

Living IRL has never been more important.

That’s why we created The Slow Scroll, a weekly newsletter by IRL Labs, sent directly to your inbox (oh the irony). The Slow Scroll curates the latest and most inspiring content and resources, empowering readers to untether and live slowly.

Brought to you by...

Ivan Cash, Editor-in-Chief
Cyrena Lee, Editor and Lead Writer
Erin Ellis, Illustrator

Emily Lin, Producer

Mailing Address
IRL Labs
PO BOX 24213
Oakland, CA 94623
Copyright © 2019 IRL Labs, All rights reserved.
The Slow Scroll is a curated newsletter dedicated to helping you live IRL. 
IFNOT:ARCHIVE_PAGE|* You signed up for the IRL Newsletter or backed IRL Glasses on Kickstarter

Love the ethos of The Slow Scroll but want less emails in your life? We totally get it!
unsubscribe from this list    update subscription preferences 

Email Marketing Powered by Mailchimp