Double Take

5 March 2019

It’s the start of a new year. Returning students promise themselves that they’ll study earlier in the semester. Freshers undergo self-reinvention that inevitably boils down to an unflattering haircut.

Despite intentions of becoming shiny new people, we slip up, unable to compete with our idealised selves. Eating habits never change and the iPhone’s screen time notification continues to shame us.

Yet every decision is nestled in a complex web of psychological and economic rationales. Only when we start to untangle this, do we have a shot at being content with who we are and why we act the way we do.

Recently, a Buzzfeed essay titled How Millennials Became the Burnout Generation struck a chord among young people. It discussed the term “errand paralysis”, – the feeling that small, daily grown-up responsibilities are too overwhelming to carry out.

Decision fatigue is a theory suggesting our ability to make successful choices depletes after a long series of making decisions. The paradox of choice demonstrates that the more options we have to choose between, the less happy we are.

Australia has unprecedented opportunities from the convenience and freedom that comes with technology. It’s important to recognise just how fortunate we are, but why do so many young people feel overwhelmed by everyday living?  Older generations could argue that we are simply not mentally strong enough to handle the harshness of reality.

Still, there are multi-billion-dollar industries that capitalise on temporary lapses in effective decision making and have more tools to do so than ever before.

We’ve grown indifferent to tech giants farming personal information. Spotify billboard campaigns call out users with questionable music habits. Netflix uses viewing history to create personalised thumbnails to entice audiences.

But at what point do we draw the line? Despite the massive fall out of Cambridge Analytica, nobody’s use of Facebook changed in my network.

Young people have grown apathetic to being denied data privacy and view it as an inevitable part of using the internet. Data is used to shape the way we shop, pay bills, and interact with family and friends. Without knowledge of what and how information about us is being used, we are vulnerable into being manipulated into choices we would not otherwise make.

Businesses profit by convincing customers to make actions outside their best interests with techniques like neuropsychology-based marketing and using MRI scanners to see what advertisement provokes a subconscious emotional response.

Phones with infinite feeds and auto-play eliminate any reason to put them down. Apps are a slot machine where every refresh means the chance at another round of instant gratification. Social media emphasises social approval and reciprocity (the need to return others’ digital gestures).

Netflix welcomed 2019 with two wildly different shows: Marie Kondo’s Tidying Up and Bandersnatch. Kondo shows the transformative power of making decisions based on ‘sparking joy’. The latest instalment of Black Mirror allows the viewer to guide the plot through choices.

In an odd form of escapism, these shows offer the chance to feel agency over one’s actions, after feeling overwhelmed and frustrated in real life.

Motivational lifestyle blogs and YouTubers will suggest many solutions to take back control of your life. Simply become a hardcore minimalist in which the only possession you ever need to buy is their e-book! Live a life separated from technology: you can spend your newfound free time meditating using their app on your iPhone!

(That was mean – I love you Headspace.)  

There is no easy answer. One must take a harsh look at the complex external and internal forces at play behind their every decision. It might be easier to blame big business, but long-term happiness will only come from a solid understanding of knowing not just ourselves, but also the objects and technologies that now play a significant role in our lives.

Or maybe not. In the end, it’s your choice.

Yet every decision is nestled in a complex web of psychological and economic rationales. Only when we start to untangle this, do we have a shot at being content with who we are and how we act.

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