What a relief to admit that I don’t believe that email, the Internet, smart phones, Bluetooths, social media, YouTube, online news, television, radio, podcasts, blogs and vlogs portend the end of civilization. That they are so interwoven into our daily lives does reveal that civilization is changing extremely and quickly. So, perhaps it reveals the end of civilization as we know it and that we are smack in the middle of a massive paradigm shift most of us feel in our very cells…but not the demise of all.
Perhaps what makes us feel sometimes like the end of the world is nigh is that we are still struggling with the balance between embracing the new—innovations that help us connect, evolve and expand—and continuing to use and learn from the old—indigenous cultures, nature’s wisdom, naturopathic medicine, long form storytelling, human contact, the art of conversation and, most importantly, the spiritual connection and self-awareness that brings profound healing.
I believe it’s possible, and vital, to embrace both. (And, between you and me, this is the major theme of a novel currently in the works.) So, nothing thrills me more than when I discover a “new” use of technology that serves as a bridge to one of the less concrete qualities of the “old.”
I believe that’s its truest and highest purpose.
Reply All is a podcast about the Internet produced by Gimlet and hosted by PJ Vogt and Alex Goldman. It tells poignant, weird and funny stories about how people use and react to the Internet. It produced its eighth episode in January, but as I’ve just discovered these 15- to 25-minute audio nuggets I just listened to this one about Paul Ford. He is a writer and programmer who creates Web sites to address most of his life issues, including a site to remind him of things decades away and a weight loss site only he and his therapist have access to where he records his daily calorie counts.
Healing through technology innovation, and a little humor
Paul also struggles with paralyzing anxiety. As he describes on the podcast, he constantly hears that niggling, negative voice in his head telling him he’s weird and bad and in danger, no matter what is really going on. His reaction, create anxietybox.com.
Here’s how it works. The site—or, more accurately, the bot inside the site—essentially outsources his anxiety’s voice. He can add as many anxieties as he likes and his email address, and the site sends him messages from his anxieties.
The horrible, negative things he used to hear in his head—e.g., “History will forget you because history forgets people who are unable to finish anything.” Or, my favorite, “People on Facebook look at your picture and think ‘in possession of a weird nose.’”—are sent to him throughout the day. They’re funny, but ruthless.
As I listened to the examples Paul read, I cringed. The host was similarly skeptical. Why would anyone subject themselves to these negative reinforcements? How could that possibly help? He was losing me fast.
But then Paul described his reaction, and I changed my mind completely.
Because he externalized his anxiety’s voice, he was able to look at it. Laugh at it. Even reply. He could see it for exactly what it was: his mind and ego, trapped in a cycle of anxiety and self doubt, intelligently crafting ways to make his true self feel badly.
Once he saw it, everything shifted. He understood the pattern of suffering and its source, and he was able to put it all into a broader perspective that helped him minimize its effect.
In Paul’s words: “It’s so ridiculous to scream at yourself all day long… Seeing it actually externalized as 20 messages in a Gmail inbox, it was so much like what my brain was producing. It was like, oh my god, I’ve been wasting so much time with this son of a bitch.”
Because of this simple technology, created by him, he was able to see the anxiety as something separate from his true self, soften it and eventually stop having anxiety attacks altogether.
He reminded me of a critical but tough lesson: awareness brings healing, and eventually peace. Once we are willing to acknowledge and truly see something or someone for what it is or who they are, their power over us diminishes. In the light of our gaze, it can only be exactly what it is. With the clarity of truth, we see ourselves for the perfectly flawed and mighty beings we are.
Truly looking at the things or people in our lives that we have created unhealthy patterns around is difficult. But once the truth has been seen, it can’t be unseen.
Anxietybox.com. Genius. Counterintuitive at first glance. But truly moving in its simplicity. Paul intuitively used what he knew—technology—to build a bridge to what he needed. This time it connected it to himself.
It doesn’t get more old school than that.
To find out more about Reply All, go here. To find out more about anxietybox.com, go here. To subscribe to updates on Rebecca’s upcoming memoir, Laugh at the Sky, Kid, go here. To find out more about her writing and coaching services, go here.