Think Tank: Internet Detoxing

In case you were wondering, I completed my Internet Detox and lived to tell the tale. As a refresher, here were the rules:

1. Because so much of life in 2015 is dependent on the Internet, I detoxed just for the week: Monday morning (actually, I unofficially started on Sunday night after dinner) when I woke up to Friday at noon.

2. No browsing, researching or posting was allowed…

3. …but I checked my emails once a day at noon just to make sure nothing super important came through. This was the only rule I continually broke throughout the week out of necessity, and now I see that once a day was the most unrealistic when I still had to communicate with people.

4. I was still available via text.

To make it more interesting and see how good my willpower was, I didn’t delete any of the social media or messaging apps on my phone or block my Internet browser. However, I did turn off push notifications.

It wasn’t as hard as I thought it might be, but I definitely learned more about my Internet consumption and social media in general. I didn’t realize it, but about five days, which amounts to 120 hours, was the perfect amount of time to gain some insight.

Unwittingly, I picked a great time to do it.

Like I said in the explainer post, I had been feeling particularly uninspired and thought getting off the grid would help. Luckily, this week became a lot busier than I had anticipated it to be: planning and decorating for my mom’s birthday party, helping my sister get ready to go back to school, working on creative projects and hanging out with friends. I did play a lot of 1010! in my downtime, which was a pretty good brain workout. I thought I was going to read more, but I just read and finished one book. I took the time to take evening walks, where I noticed a lot of things about my neighborhood that I missed when I was ultra-busy in work and school. Being out and about or otherwise focused didn’t leave that much time to check anything, which really helped me stay on track.

Some parts of the detox were easier than others.

The easiest parts? I didn’t touch Facebook or Twitter for the entire time. I also never opened my Feedly, which houses all of the feeds for my favorite websites and blogs. When I came back to that on Friday, I had over 2,000 articles to sift through — but more on that later. Turning off push notifications was maybe cheating, but I think that would have been even harder to get through the detox seeing all of this stuff come across my screen and resist temptation.

The hardest parts? The email thing, like I said earlier. And especially on Monday and Tuesday, I found myself absentmindedly opening both Instagram and Snapchat, realizing quickly that I wasn’t supposed to be on it and closing out the apps before anything could load. That probably happened about 15 times. I’m thinking this happened because Instagram is much more visually stimulating than status updates or long reads and therefore I’m drawn more to checking it, and Snapchat is so ephemeral that if I don’t see someone’s story it’s gone the next day and I’ll never see it again.

I was also hoping to not use the Internet at all for the week, and that was nearly impossible just because of how much information is hosted online. I had to research where to find clear latex balloons, what time “The Gift” was playing on Thursday, and when the city’s new parks and rec classes registration opened. I also applied for a job, which required an online application. You don’t really realize just how much of life has become digital until you’re forced or you force yourself to disconnect.

It forced me to be more resourceful.

I spend a significant amount of my time on the Internet looking for new things, whether that’s new art, music, television, film or ideas. I get a lot of that from how I’ve curated my social media and content feeds, but also through falling down rabbit holes and finding new outlets. For the week, I couldn’t do any of that. I also couldn’t browse Pinterest for ideas on my mom’s birthday party, and turning off that spigot was good too because it forced me to trust my own taste. Finally, I didn’t buy anything online for the week, and I count that as an achievement in itself. Having to read a book from my own stockpile instead of researching/buying a new one or listening to what’s in my iTunes library made me more appreciative of what I already have, and enjoy what I’ve already culled for myself.

Facebook was the most interesting to come back to — and it wasn’t what people were posting.

I’ve never spent enough time away from Facebook to know this, but Facebook does some really interesting things while you’re away from it for periods of time. When I opened it up and saw that I had nine notifications, I expected them to be things directly related to me. For the most part, they weren’t. Facebook told me that someone I’m friends with changed her profile photo on Thursday. Another one was someone’s benign status update on Friday morning. There were even notifications that multiple friends were attending a event near me (the Bernie Sanders rally), and if I knew someone I have a lot of mutual friends with and wanted to friend request her. With regular usage, none of this stuff pops up. In addition, Facebook consolidated a lot of information for me when I scrolled through my newsfeed. For example, it would say “So-and-so posted four updates” and would show me, all together, four status updates from throughout the week. This made it easy to see everything that had been posted since Sunday night.

The return to Facebook was one of the most interesting aspects of the detox for me, because with so much of what Facebook is trying to do in terms of getting to know its users better for supposedly better service (but really better advertising), it completely missed the mark. None of it was important to me, and it didn’t even pick people that I interact with on a regular basis. I would love to know what the algorithms are, what the cutoff was (Is it two days? Four?) for all of it to start popping up and why Facebook would think that I would want all of that consolidation and want to know everything that had happened. I hope that eventually social media becomes a more interesting site of research, because I think there are a lot of mechanisms that we don’t notice that affect how we consume it.

It felt like I hadn’t taken a break from the Internet at all.

When I came back on Friday, nothing seemed to have really changed in the general media landscape. I didn’t really miss anything so big or catastrophic that was a shock five days later. I didn’t expect for any of that to change, but to come back and not feel like I missed anything in a week was scary. It’s insane to me that the 24-hour news cycle desensitizes everything, and for the most part everyone is just doing the same things and making the same decisions. Same shit, different day.

As an aside, I noticed during a trip through my RSS feeds yesterday that at least three different publications wrote about Jimmy Fallon’s contract extension. If I had read any of them the day of publication, I probably would have thought the item was interesting and maybe looked to see if anyone had written about what that meant for the future of late night television. Reading it days after made me initially wonder why that was important enough for everyone to report on it.

And at the end, I wasn’t all that excited to come back to it. 

At noon on Friday, I was in the middle of dropping my dad off at the optometrist’s and didn’t even realize what time it was. I wasn’t counting down the minutes, and I wasn’t full of anticipation. Shortly after coming home, I did open everything up one by one to see what my closest friends had posted. But throughout the afternoon, I looked through all of the feeds just to see what had happened. But I didn’t open anything later out of boredom, and as I’m writing this I have no desire to check my Twitter feed or scroll aimlessly through Pinterest. I’m hoping it lasts for awhile, and that I won’t revert.

Would I do this experiment again? Absolutely. In some strange way, I feel reinvigorated and more aware. It was weird to feel disconnected, but it was worth it to step back and gain the insight. As you can tell if you’ve been reading for awhile (if you have, thank you) I’m fascinated with the Internet and how it affects culture around the world. Now I’m even more intrigued.

Have questions? Ask me anything about my Internet detox in the comments.



Think Tank: Ephemera

A bookmark I found in a used book I bought -- I think a collection of Flannery O'Connor stories.
A bookmark I found in a used book I bought — I think a collection of Flannery O’Connor stories.

One of the reasons why I like to buy used books is that I can almost always count on it to come with some kind of ephemera. I find everything from receipts to indecipherable drawings to old boarding pass stubs tucked into the pages. I don’t mind at all– it’s a neat addition to an already great concept. I’m buying a used book from somewhere in the world, and it may come with a surprise. They’re obviously things someone inadvertently forgot to take out. The more I think about the ephemera I find, the more fascinating I find it.

Why was John Hoskins flying to Amsterdam? And how old is this stub? So. Many. Questions. 

In our everyday lives, we take these little bits of paper — receipts, scribbled notes to ourselves, handouts given to us on the street — for granted. That boarding pass I found in my new-to-me copy of Don DeLillo’s Underworld got someone from Los Angeles to Amsterdam. The drawing I found of what seems to be city streets in an Italo Calvino novel I bought to save money on class texts was maybe a set of directions, trying to help someone remember where something was. And in addition to these primary functions, this ephemera maybe had an additional one as a bookmark — a pause in reading. Or maybe the original owner of these books (or whoever had it before me) meant to save it and realized too late that it was gone, or maybe it was meant to be thrown away. I don’t know and will never be able to find out what these pieces of paper meant to the people who left them in the books, as the used book warehouses that sell them on the Amazon Marketplace or Thrift Books probably don’t know either.

Reader, why did you leave this receipt for a Calvino book in another Calvino book…?
…and what does this mean?

But in addition to what I found them in, these pieces of ephemera host a lot of unanswered questions. The boarding pass — Why did John Hoskins choose to read Underworld? Why was he going to Amsterdam, and why did he decide to get rid of the book? And the San Francisco Public Library receipt that has no name, with the words “Mullioned Mandrel” written on the back — why did you leave this receipt for Calvino’s Invisible Cities in another Calvino book? And why are you reading so much Calvino, and what is the significance of “Mullioned Mandrel”? Who were these people, and what did they think of the stories? Why did they decide to get rid of these books, and how many people’s hands did they pass through before they got to me?

I have tried so hard to figure out what these directions mean, but still have no idea.

I realize that I’m extrapolating much farther than I should on finding old pieces of paper in books I buy and asking way too many questions I can never have the answers to (#journalist), but then I wonder about me and what things I’ve left in books that are no longer mine. There may have been someone who wondered who Zoë Lance was, and why she wrote dumb notes in her books or left a receipt or bookmark inside the cover. And I have no idea how many people beyond me have had my old books in their possession, and what they thought of my coffee order or why I left this to-do list in a book I gave away. But I think that’s kind of magical. It reminds me that reading is a communal and networked effort, and that our life stories are told in many different mediums. The stuff left behind in the stories I’m reading further connect me to other people throughout the world. I think that’s important in a world that is becoming increasingly digital.

This is one of my favorite things I've found -- a card that fell out of a book I didn't end up buying at my club's used book sale, but couldn't resist keeping.
This is one of my favorite things I’ve found — a card that fell out of a book I didn’t end up buying at my club’s used book sale, but couldn’t resist keeping.

What I’m trying to say in a very roundabout sort of way is that we leave paper trails wherever we go that are part of bigger stories, and the ephemera we leave in books specifically ends up connecting readers to each other in a way that is both accidental and beautiful.  So remember that the next time you stick a Starbucks receipt or a note to yourself in a book to keep your spot. You may never know who may uncover it.

Have you ever found something interesting in a book you’ve bought? Let’s talk about it in the comments.

Think Tank: Starbucks Mobile Ordering

I walked into Starbucks this afternoon craving an iced coffee, and one of the first things I noticed was this humongous cardboard sign.

Very interesting. Very, very interesting.
Very interesting. Very, very interesting.

My 15-year-old sister explained to me that in a lot of states across the country, you can now order and pay for your Starbucks order — both drinks and food — through the Starbucks mobile app. You skip the line, pick it up at the bar and go on about your day.

I’ve used online ordering for food before, and I don’t have a problem with the general concept of it. It makes both Panera and Chipotle much more pleasant, especially if you’re ordering in a big group. Everyone can pay separately, and one person can go and pick up everything without having to collect money and make a million orders. In the age of the credit card, it makes a lot of sense and streamlines a process. I spent most of the afternoon thinking about  this new way of ordering at Starbucks and why it seemed and felt wrong to me, and I came up with two reasons.

The experience of ordering coffee should be sacred. 

I know this is a really funny statement considering we’re discussing Starbucks, which is so commercialized I’m surprised they don’t do celebrity endorsement deals. This is the same chain the mainstream media covers like national news when it announces six new Frappuccino flavors. Hell, I don’t even really Starbucks coffee that much. I’d rather go somewhere else or make my own coffee, unless I’m really craving it (like today) and it’s convenient (like today).

There’s something about the experience of walking into the cafe, ordering your drink from a barista and waiting to get it. You have the ambience of the making coffee noises, the music (which is almost always pretty good) and people chatting or working away. If you go often enough, it becomes an entire ritual. And I like it: I like looking at the new cups they have, hearing what other people are ordering and maybe even running into someone I know. It’s an experience I really enjoy, especially if it’s a coffee shop that’s relaxing to be in. It seems much more relaxed than say, shopping for clothes in a store, which has become an altogether unpleasant experience.

I guess getting rid of all of this via ordering at home and picking it up in the store isn’t a bad thing if you have social anxiety, you’re picking up a bunch of drinks for a lot of people or you really are too busy to wait in line. Convenience can really make it all the more pleasant. But by ordering and paying through an app, you eliminate all of those other elements that I think are just the simple joys of living life.

It also fosters a world where we don’t have to interact with each other. 

Life requires interaction, and I’m not sure why people gravitate towards things that ensure that they don’t have to engage. While online transactions make things much more convenient, it eliminates face time that people need to build interpersonal skills. Sure, people can be really terrible, but that’s the point: you learn by talking to people and realizing “I shouldn’t act like that because it made me feel a, b or c” or “I should act like that more because of x, y or z.” I would imagine even little kids learn a lot from these kinds of exchanges: the procedure of waiting in line, ordering food, saying “please” and “thank you” and being patient in waiting. If children grow up knowing that you can do just about anything through a phone app, this will change the way they interact with the world and other people in it. We’re seeing this now with online shopping, which I acknowledge as something I do but would change if the conditions were better.

People have always been afraid of robots, and we tell so many “What if robots take over the world???” stories through movies, television shows and novels. But this is basically what is happening right now with something like Starbucks mobile ordering. I realize that’s a gross overstatement, but it’s worth suggesting. There are people who are making and monitoring the app, but they are entirely behind the scenes. The app will treat your drink as a statistic, not as a personal order (which also brings me to believe that this will give Starbucks a whole new mine of demographic and business figures). By introducing this digital component, Starbucks is also opening up a new can of worms. I’ll be interested to see what happens when mobile orders get messed up, or how the staffs will juggle a queue with both in-person and virtual orders.

Another thing about this app is that I’m curious about how many jobs the app will erase. Starbucks obviously still needs baristas to make the drinks — unless they also make that computerized, which will be even scarier — but what will happen to the staffs that previously needed a certain amount of people on register with an additional number actually making the drinks? Even though 64 percent of adult Americans own a smartphone, I don’t think mobile ordering would ever supplant the traditional ordering method — or at least I hope not. But in the face of such a paradigm shift, these are the kinds of questions we should be asking.

What do you think about Starbucks mobile ordering? Let’s talk about it in the comments.

Think Tank: Advice I Would Give My 17-Year-Old Self

Man oh man. Circa May 2011.
Man oh man. Senior prom circa May 2011.
  1. I know that you’re embarrassed that all of your friends are going off to Ivy League schools or UCs while you’re going to a Cal State and living at home. But I promise you, it’ll be the best four years of your life. You’ll get to do some really incredible things and meet some phenomenal people, and by the end the thought of leaving brings you to tears in seconds. I promise you that you made the best choice.
  2. Everything will always work itself out. Do not underestimate that.
  3. You think you’re smart, and you are. But you don’t actually know anything. Soak in the next four years. It’ll be fantastic.
  4. You will want to do and be everything, and almost always feel like you are not enough.  Do not let those feelings consume you.
  5. You are allowed to leave someone or something without saying goodbye.
  6.  You don’t have to explain yourself to anyone, ever.
  7. Treat your creativity as your most prized possession.
  8. Read everything.
  9. You’re going to discover yoga, and you’re going to think it’s the best thing ever. Whatever you do, don’t stop practicing. 21-year-old Zoë will thank you.
  10. You are enough, and you are loved.

Think Tank: My One Gray Hair

My life, actually.
My life, actually.

I was in the bathroom at school today washing my hands, and I looked in the mirror to make sure that I didn’t have anything in my teeth or gross on my face (as one does), and I saw something I was not expecting to see. One single, long, course, gray hair towards the middle of my head.

I guess this is a thing that can happen to you when you’re in your 20s, even though it’s associated with being “old.” But when I saw it/subsequently asked my friends and family to confirm that yes, that is a long silver strand of hair on your head, I found it to be one of the funniest things ever to happen to me. And the more I think about it, graying is actually a pretty interesting experience. Let’s talk about it.

I went through four years of college and all I got was this lousy gray hair.

That is a gross misrepresentation of what I’ve gotten from my college experience, but you get the point. As I’ve been approaching graduation I’ve been reflecting on how much work I’ve really done in such a short amount of time, and I guess the stress of that amount of work has manifested itself in less noticeable ways. I’m actually kind of surprised that my whole head isn’t silver, considering all of the stress I’ve put myself through. But at least I’m starting to get used to it at 21 years old.

I don’t know if what’s happening to me is just genetics, and it very well may be. But even if someone said to me at the very beginning of college to choose between having an illustrious experience or premature graying, I would still probably pick the former. I don’t know if that’s the right choice, but it’s the one I’m sticking to.

The social pressure that we put on women about graying is terrible. 

According to the article cited above, there are quite a few things that can cause you to go gray, especially at a young age. It can be hereditary, or nutritional, or even the result of an underlying medical condition. That being said, I don’t feel any less 21 than I did before I found this gray hair, which I’m sure will have friends soon. When I do have more, I’ll embrace the change. I think it sucks that women feel like they have to dye their hair to get rid of gray roots. There are some dye jobs I’ve seen lately that are purposefully gray that I think are really awesome.

I do understand that if you’re in your 50s or 60s and you have a lot of gray hair that you may feel like you’ve lost your youth, and that dying it back to your original color restores part of it. At the end of the day, you should do what makes you happy. But I think I’m going to see how long I can go without resorting to pulling the hairs out or eventually coloring my whole head.

It’s actually pretty badass.

I’ve always envied Stacy London for her gray streak (even though that’s the result of an autoimmune issue and that really sucks) but she looks so damn cool. If I could have a fraction of Stacy London’s coolness by proxy, I will take it.

But really, just having one strand on my head has made me rethink what it means to go gray. I think you should wear your gray hair as a badge of honor at any age. Growing older and getting gray hair also means that you’re growing as a human being and getting more life experience, and that’s something to be really proud of. In the meantime, I will embrace my gray.

How do you feel about your graying hair? Let’s talk about it in the comments.


Think Tank: Apple Watch

I really do not understand why this watch even exists, and I’ve been using Apple products for at least half my life. Photo cred: Getty Images via TIME.


I really enjoy Apple products. I’ve had two Apple laptops, and am currently typing this blog post on my beloved Macbook Pro. My first smartphone was an iPhone 4. I love my iPhone 5, and cannot work an Android phone to save my life. I spend most of my middle school and high school years with my iPod nano and touch’s headphones seemingly glued into my ears.

With all that being disclosed, I do not want an Apple Watch. At all.

It’s hard not to have heard about the Apple Watch’s imminent arrival, unless you’ve been living under a rock for the past six months. (If you have been, teach me your ways.) Not only have there been countless reviews, but a lot of really interesting news tidbits, like the level of customer care you’ll get if you buy the most expensive model, and whether or not that’s fair for people who buy the Sports version. I’ve even read that Apple wishes to make the experience like buying a Rolex or an Audemar Piguet. What’s also interesting is that there doesn’t seem to be two distinct camps of Pro- or Anti-Watch. People are talking about it and saying that you might not really need one, but there hasn’t been a strong reaction either way to it. (Or maybe I’m just not paying that close attention to it, which is totally possible.)

There are a few reasons why I don’t think the Apple Watch is going to be all that great, but there are also a few reasons why it might be good.

PRO: People might pay closer attention to their health.

The watch is supposed to have a fitness app built into it, which is potentially a really cool thing. People who are unwilling to shell out money for a FitBit, but can justify the price because the watch can do many, many other things, may actually start to care about how much exercise they are or aren’t getting, their pulse, and whatever else the Apple Watch will eventually be able to measure. In a world where obesity is an epidemic, the Apple Watch may be a weapon to battle it.

CON: People might not pay attention to their health at all.

There are quite a few apps on both my Macbook Pro and my iPhone that I just don’t use. Some people might end up feeling the same way about the Apple Watch, and will use it for other things they deem more important. That’s not a judgment by any means, but it’s an important point to bring up. The purpose of the Apple Watch may eventually shift away from a fitness angle, if it does become a cultural phenomenon.

PRO/CON: People might actually start wearing and using watches, which may discourage people from wearing and using watches. 

I wear a watch every day out of habit — I used to work retail where the clocks on the registers were unreliable, and I couldn’t use my phone. Most people my age use their phones to check the time, regardless of whether or not they’re wearing a watch. These big watches have become a big deal in the fashion world, and even Apple has said that they want their watch to become a fine piece of jewelry.

At the same time though, there is a very real possibility that if the Apple Watch becomes a big enough deal, that people won’t wear real watches at all anymore. Not only does that remind me of Brave New World a little bit, but I think it would be very sad if the watchmaking industry diminished as a result of this product. Apple has a history of edging out its competition and I think that’s just a part of capitalism, but there is something about it that is deeply unsettling.

PRO/CON: Apple continues to ingratiate itself into our daily lives.

I am all about complementary things in my life, and I really enjoy having a phone and a computer than can “talk” to each other. It has made things for me so much easier, whether that’s syncing my phone or using Messages and FaceTime. With the Apple Watch, people will be able to add another component into the mix for complete technological harmony: computer, tablet, phone and watch. I think we all know how good that would probably feel.

At the same time though, I was really mad that Apple forced me to download the Watch app in an iOS update. I have no plans to buy an Apple Watch, but I still have to have the app taking up space on my phone. But I guess it’s truly Apple’s phone and Apple’s vision for its customers’ needs. I think we need to be really careful about how much we let a company like this one into our everyday way of life.

CON: Its price point is entirely impractical for most people. 

Regardless of the reviews you might read about how in the grand scale of the watch world a $400 starting price point is not that bad, the Apple Watch will simply not be accessible to the majority of the world. Again, I’m not passing judgment on Apple’s product direction. I’m just saying that

CON: We’re going to have to figure out how to treat it as a thing. 

We already legislate phone and computer usage on multiple levels, so we’re going to have to decide as a society whether or not to legislate the Apple Watch too. Are you going to get a ticket for using it while driving? Are students going to be allowed to check their Apple Watches in class, or wear it while taking a test? If a computer is seized as evidence in a crime, will the police also be able to seize an Apple Watch? And are we comfortable with any of these things? We have to start thinking about these questions, as I’m sure they will become real issues very soon.

CON: It is completely gratuitous.  

Think long and hard about these next two questions. If you’ve found yourself interested in buying an Apple Watch, do you really need one? And if you say to yourself, “Yes, I do really need one,” my second question is why? And I’ll leave it at that.

How do you feel about the Apple Watch? Let’s talk about it in the comments.


Think Tank: #Goals

Really though, Ina Garten is kind of everything. There is now a "What Would Ina Do?" sign in the Poly Post newsroom.
Really though, Ina Garten is kind of everything. There is now a “What Would Ina Do?” sign in the Poly Post newsroom.

Most people do not know that I consider Ina Garten as one of my role models. Before becoming the Barefoot Contessa, she was a White House nuclear policy analyst and overall badass. Now she spends her days cooking for her blog, inviting friends over and spending time with her devoted husband Jeffrey. If you don’t know who Ina Garten was before you read this paragraph, consider yourself enlightened.

As I remarked to my friend Adrian the other day, Ina Garten’s life is my dream. I’d like to have a very successful editing career one day, and then spend my retirement gardening, cooking, designing and entertaining. Ina seems like a wonderful person, and she always has the best ideas. I’d also like to have a husband who loves me as much as Jeffrey loves Ina. I also ask myself on a semi-regular basis, “What would Ina do?” In Internet meme-speak, you could probably call this my #goals. The caption on this Buzzfeed article about Lorde and her boyfriend is the usage I’m talking about.

#Goals is something I’ve been seeing a lot of lately, and I want to parse out its implications. I’m not sure about you, but I’ve seen it used both seriously and facetiously on platforms like Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and Tumblr. #Goals seems to be different from more concrete aspirations, like “I want to be a doctor” or “I want to lose 10 pounds.” It’s more of an emotional thing, like “Chris Pratt and Anna Faris are my relationship #goals” or “When the neighborhood Starbucks barista knows your favorite drink by heart #goals.”

In this sense, #goals are the achievements in your life that aren’t quite milestones in the general sense but that still mean something to your personal sense of identity and success, and I like what that represents. Your #goals may not be that you want your boyfriend to buy you Tiffany jewelry, but that you want to be with someone who cares about you enough to buy you expensive gifts that have their own significance in themselves. I don’t know if that’s running through the 14 year olds’ heads as they hashtag their social media posts, but the sentiment is there. Or in another example, seeing some stylishly-dressed older people and commenting mom or dad #goals. Beyond the clothes or parenting techniques, there’s a certain level of coolness and worldliness that’s appealing to you. And in both of these examples, the outcomes are very positive — something I’ve noticed that’s intrinsic in #goals. By pointing out something about another person or an idea and saying #goals, you’re being a people person. Whether they realize it or not, you’re paying those people virtual compliments and putting out positive vibes into the world.

But in some ways, #goals has its limits. Elle magazine feels the same way, saying that the label is actually quite reductive. I love Ina Garten and consider her a fantastic role model, but I think that if I had her life specifically, I wouldn’t probably be entirely happy. I make cake from a box, and the most gardening I do is a grow-your-own-sunflower kit from the Target $1 section. I want the wonderful feelings and success Ina seems to have, but even then I have to realize that there’s a lot I don’t see. She might fight with Jeffrey a lot, or she might spend more time coming up with content for her show and cookbooks than she actually does enjoying her life. It seems as if when people use #goals to try and qualify their feelings about wanting something non-material in their lives, all they end up thinking about is the surface. You can say relationship #goals about another couple, but you are effectively erasing all of the non-#goals stuff. It doesn’t come to mind immediately. And plus, I’m Zoë. I shouldn’t strive to be Ina, which is something #goals at least implies about the people who use it.

I still find a lot of good in #goals, and celebrate the good vibes emanating from a simple hashtag. I still want to be as successful as Ina Garten. And I still hope that one day I will be able to enjoy my life as Ina appears to enjoy hers. But until then, I’ll be thinking how I feel about #goals.

How do you feel about #goals? Am I flat out crazy? Let’s talk about it in the comments.

Think Tank: Going Outside

Backyard photo shenanigans.
Backyard photo shenanigans.

The quarter has winded down, which means that I have a break from The Poly Post staff meetings for a few weeks. I came home from school early, had lunch in my own kitchen (which never happens anymore), brought my laptop in from my room and opened my in-progress ENG 466 portfolio Word document to work on it some more (more on this next week).

This started out as a pleasant experience. The back door was open, letting a cool breeze and the songs of chirping birds filter through the house. I was listening to some great music. But I spent about three hours glued to a seat at my kitchen table. I had to write a cover letter, work on intro blurbs for each section and fix a bunch of formatting issues. To top it off, it’s a 65-page document that seems to scroll on forever and ever and ever.

Somewhere between fixing a really annoying header problem and starting in on my linguistics assignment blurb, I felt really frustrated and depleted. In the last year, I have really come to hate staring at a computer screen. I can barely tolerate the one I’m looking at right now.

I suddenly couldn’t remember the last time I had been outside. And I don’t mean walking from my car to class to work and back, or the short distance from the parking lot of my neighborhood Starbucks to the store entrance. I mean being out in nature and appreciating it. I spend most of my time in a windowless office, and the windows in the classrooms and the newsroom never stay open for long before someone else shuts it.

So I got up from the kitchen table and went out the back door.

As soon as I stepped out into my backyard, I felt a weight disappear from my shoulders, and my headspace instantly felt clearer. With my dog undertow I spent 15 minutes walking around on the grass, looking at how much bigger the succulents in the bathtub have grown and gazing at the foothills, which are finally starting to grow back in. I felt the breeze on my face. I felt the grass creep up around my sandals. And I felt the earth pushing back up on me (A yoga thing, don’t worry about it.) It was the most sensory experience I had in a long time, and I couldn’t have felt more relaxed.

I’ve been learning a lot about coping and relaxation techniques in my stress management class, and I was curious about the connection between nature and stress management. A quick Google search later, I landed on a American Society of Landscape Architects blog. The blog extrapolated on a Wall Street Journal article that claimed that strolling through a park or an arboretum significantly affects your mood and gives you a cognitive boost. It makes sense though that this is an issue that landscape architects have to work with. You’d probably need that to factor into the design of your outdoor space, and providing the best experience possible would benefit everyone.

I also found an abstract for a really rad study that claimed that interacting with nature was the most important coping strategy for cancer patients. That makes so much sense too. If you’re in chemotherapy all day, which probably entails being stuck in hospital room surrounded by sterility, the sounds of rustling trees and getting visual stimulation from looking at pretty flowers or clouds in the sky are probably pretty damn therapeutic.

I find it fascinating though that a brief interaction with real nature — looking at a photo of a forest or a beach doesn’t count — has the power to significantly alter our emotional and physiologically well-being. We all spend way too much time inside, glued to computer screens that are screwing up our vision and giving us extreme cases of FOMO. And we also try to make quick fixes that end up making things worse, like mid-afternoon coffee breaks or retail therapy. Based on my experience today, what we really should be doing is making time in our day to experience the outdoors.

Tl;dr Go outside.

Wanna chat about going outside? Let’s talk in the comments.

Think Tank: The Dress

For the record, I see either color scheme depending on the angle and the overall lightness. Granted, my glasses have a very light prescription.

I had totally planned to write something else for today’s Think Tank, but Adrian told me that I needed to write about The Dress so here I am.

If you haven’t seen or heard about The Dress yet, it’s this photo of a dress that’s been circulating the Internet today. The original poster asked her followers on Tumblr to help decide on what colors the dress is: white and gold, or blue and black. Some people see one color scheme, while others see the other (It switches back and forth for me.) Basically, the Internet, especially Tumblr and Twitter, has blown up because of this stupid dress. My own father suggested that when I said I saw blue and black, I was messing with him because it was definitely white and gold, and that anyone saying otherwise was just in on a huge joke.

It turns out that your overall eye health and the light in the photo dictates the colors you see, but it is fascinating to me that the collective Internet has lost basically an entire day debating on whether or not this dress is white and gold or blue and black. Taylor Swift even tweeted about it. I wasn’t on the computer for most of the afternoon, and by the time I found out about it people had already made new memes out of it and were claiming that it was the Illuminati’s master plan. It seemed as if anyone and everyone, especially celebrities, had already decided what camp they were in. People I would never have thought would have gotten in on the debate, like Julia Louis-Dreyfus, even made comments. Something so trivial on the grand scale of things got so many people involved so quickly.

This isn’t to say that this doesn’t happen with really important things either: #BlackLivesMatter and #JeSuisCharlie are testaments to that, and gave very important things the exposure they needed. But the furor surrounding The Dress could not have possibly happened 10, 20, 30 years ago, which says something significant about how we spread this kind of information, talk about it and deem things as important.

The FCC made a very important decision concerning net neutrality today, and I have seen nearly nothing about it in comparison to the discussion surrounding The Dress. My parents and grandparents, who definitely subscribed to the newspaper a decade ago (In fact, I think my grandparents still do [go print!]), probably would have thought something like this showing up on the front page of the Los Angeles Times (which is effectively what social media is these days) meant that it was an incredibly slow news day, or that it maybe was a joke that the editors were playing. Something like this simply wouldn’t have been considered newsworthy. There simply wasn’t the physical space for it. My feelings on print media are an entirely different discussion and blog post for another day, but I feel very strongly that print is one of the best measures of quality control.

But because there are no physical boundaries to the Internet, this kind of story can proliferate endlessly and become immortalized. It’ll probably be brought up again sometime in some corner of the Internet. But it is mind-boggling to me that my future children may be able to find a whole archive of information on this meme when in this day and age, New Yorker articles still need a subscription to be accessed. I don’t possess the power of being able to foresee what the Internet’s future purpose will be or what it will look like, but I’m nearly positive that this will end up somewhere. Keeping it 100, I’m unsettled by that. Something like this confirms that there is truly no quality control to the Internet, despite any effort.

But because people have the forum to share the image and proliferate the content, it’s become a big deal. This is expressly why I don’t like content aggregators like Buzzfeed or Huffington Post. More people spend time taking quizzes about which Disney character they are or browsing slideshows of celebrity lookalikes than they do reading about things that have much more power to affect them. Even the outlets that make fun of all of that in a wickedly smart way, like The Onion or Clickhole, have to feed off of these kinds of things in order to have meaningful content.

Despite what color scheme you think it is, quite frankly there is a bigger world out there with more important issues. For being such a wealth of information, the Internet allows for you to select what you want to see and lets things to slip through the cracks, and while I can appreciate the jokes, laughter and camaraderie The Dress has spawned, I can’t help but feel a little sad for our society. I 100 percent understand that videos of animals doing funny things, listicles and debate about what color scheme The Dress is are all great distractions. They are basically the junk food of news, and we all need a few pieces of candy to balance out the fiber. And I’m not setting myself on a pedestal either — I’ve been known to link to the greatest Buzzfeed article of all time.  But I really do think that the buzz surrounding this phenomenon is an indication of how much our culture has changed in such a short amount of time.

It’s startlingly easy to share the image with a friend, reblog it on Tumblr or see who in the world is talking about it. These viral posts are a constant reminder that our world is nearly instantaneous and is always working towards it, and it will probably take me my entire life to figure out whether or not that’s a good thing. Right now, I think if there’s anything The Dress can really teach us, it’s that out of the chaos we should probably start to reevaluate our sense of importance.

What do you think? Let’s talk about it in the comments.




Think Tank: Brick-and-Mortar Shopping


There are two things I need to tell you about myself before I keep going with this post:

1. I am one of those weird people that runs errands alone, goes to the movies by herself and would go to any corner of the Earth even if she didn’t have someone to do it with, so going places by myself is not out of the ordinary.

2. Save for art supplies and necessities, I do most of my shopping online.

Last weekend, I made a solo trip to the Pasadena Dick Blick story to buy a few supplies. Since I had 90 minutes of free parking, I figured I would walk up Colorado Boulevard to the Madewell store to see if they had anything good on sale in the store (I buy a lot of their stuff through their online storefront.) On a Saturday morning, the street was buzzing with activity, and a lot of the stores were having sales. I was thinking about buying a new dress or blouse for an event I have this upcoming Saturday (more on that later), and I figured that it was good a time as any to browse. Up until then, I don’t think I had set foot in a physical clothing store in a good six months.

When I stepped in the H&M down the block from Madewell, I quickly realized that I felt very, very uncomfortable. Blaring music and hyper-fluorescent lighting  does not make for the best shopping experience. No one asked me if I needed help or was looking for something in particular. Navigating through the labyrinth of folded sweater tables and dress racks was overwhelming, and everything looked abysmally cheap and totally unappealing. I thought to myself that maybe I was just shopping at a weird seasonal time, and felt strangely proud that I actually went into a clothing store and walked out with nothing. So, I charged onward to Madewell.

Madewell, if you don’t know, is a pretty sparse but aesthetically pleasing store — the complete opposite of H&M. But I still felt the same way: anxious, overwhelmed and nauseated. The clothes didn’t look right on the hangers, and the sales associates would not leave me alone to browse. Plus, I didn’t see anything I couldn’t live without. I successfully went into a clothing store and walked out with nothing twice, but something didn’t feel right.

When I got home, it dawned on me. I’ve been completely spoiled by the online shopping experience.

When I buy anything from books to sweaters to parking permits to music online, I do it from the comfort of my own computer and feel no pressure to buy anything. I can browse multiple stores at the same time for the best prices, and I can filter my results down to the last stitch. Whatever I buy comes directly to my house, and if I don’t like it, I can return it without ever interacting with anybody. I get exactly what I want.

I know this makes me sound like a curmudgeon, but I think it has to do with just how abrasive shopping in a contemporary brick-and-mortar retail store can be. There’s way too much stuff in the stores or not enough at all, and sorting through it all can be nearly impossible. It’s either so loud or fragrant (Abercrombie & Fitch, anyone?) that you can’t concentrate, or so quiet you feel self-conscious. Everyone’s rude to each other — customers to associates, associates to customers and associates to associates. I know from personal experience that working retail is the Worst, but the associates’ feeling of malaise mostly stems from how these companies are set up and the low morale of high turnover rates. None of these factors make for a good shopping experience.

What’s interesting, however, is that I don’t feel this way when I go into the art store or even Target. This might be because there’s just the right amount of product and I rarely go to either when the stores are packed with people. A Goldilocks scenario, if you will. Plus, it’s easier and cheaper to go and buy what I need in person. And at the same time, there’s never any pressure to buy anything.

I know that the fact that I prefer online shopping is really bad. Pretty soon, we’re not going to be able to do anything in person, which will make some things (like disputing finances or even sending a letter at the post office [Do people even do that anymore?]) really difficult. I know that eventually the people that work in those stores on Colorado Boulevard will probably not have a job. Online shopping perpetuates the lack of interaction that our society so desperately needs more of, and as much as I don’t like contributing to that, I really hate browsing in a real store.

I didn’t really do any research on the different in in-person and online shopping for this Think Tank, but I think just about everyone can agree that stores are not like they used to be. We really need to rethink contemporary shopping and make it a more pleasant experience. Until then, I’ll be browsing on Amazon.

What do you think about online shopping? Let’s talk about it in the comments.