“Virtual” Honesty: The Chains of Technology

Courtney Graham
15 December 2007

Our Virtual Realities and the Tools That Create Them

Cell phones, smart phones, ipods, laptops, play stations, PDA’s, the list goes on and on when discussing today’s popular technological “toys”. With the culmination of a sharp increase in information technology products, the usability of these products for businesses, and a generation whose adolescence was filled with these gadgets now entering the workforce, we are becoming more and more of a “plugged in” culture. The young working adult living in a major city within the United States is almost guaranteed to have at least a cell phone these days. They may even have two cell phones, one for work and one personal phone. Cell phones have the ability now to allow its owner to access their email, surf the internet, play music, manage a calendar, text messages, and of course talk to anyone…just about anytime. Naturally these tools offer a tremendous amount of convenience for our society. However is it at a cost? Some people may say that there are strings attached to everything. Well, I don’t know about everything, but I do feel there are chains attached to some of the conveniences we enjoy from new technological tools. As from the growing lack of solitude in ones’ life, to face-to-face relationships becoming unneeded, to the increased stress due to the multi-tasking and constant stimuli, I have to ask – what is happening to our culture?

As I arrived at work today via public transportation to San Francisco California, I couldn’t help but take notice to all of the portable technology being used. A large number of commuters are in their own “bubble” while in public. An immense amount of people were listening to music on their various types of mp3 players. There is another group that is catching up on their TV programs or movie time during their commute - watching downloaded shows on their ipods. Of course we cannot neglect the busy workers, preparing for a meeting on their laptop, or responding to emails on their company smart phone. Then you have me…a minority due to leaving my ipod (my commuting bubble-of-choice) at home for today’s trip into work.  Mostly this experience left me aware of how these bubbles are our virtual solitude – which at some point slowly started substituting for true solitude.

 Since the information technology boom, creating virtual realities has become a competition within the industry. For video games the more real the better. Colleges can now teach in virtual classrooms. The list of virtual capabilities is growing at an amazing rate. According to dictionary.com, an online dictionary, one of the definitions for the word ‘virtual’ includes “temporarily simulated or extended by computer software”. This website also shows the American Heritage Dictionary definition which includes “Computer Science Created, simulated, or carried on by means of a computer or computer network” (“Virtual”). For this reason, when I discuss virtual solitude, I am focusing on a solitude that is not real, but instead created by some sort of computer software or technological tool. One representation of this virtual solitude is the individual on the cell phone…you know the one…they are yelling about something you want to know nothing about, in front of you at the grocery store. As your eyes dart all over the store searching for anything to focus on besides them and their personal issue, you wonder…why do they think they can’t be heard? Where does that phone, and their mind, take them that is so private? Of course, in reality, they are not even close to being alone. Most likely, if they were conducting the conversation face-to-face with the person in public, they would lower their voice and lean into the person’s ear, so as to not share the subject of the conversation. Yet, something about that gadget they hold to their ear denies them the ability to remember they are surrounded by strangers.

Although not all cell phone users are like the individual in the above example, there are other ways in which people use technology to form a virtual solitude for themselves. Ipods and other mp3 players are also used for this purpose. By plugging in their headphones they can immerse themselves into a favorite song, or if it is a video ipod – their favorite movie or TV show. This ability represents the capacity to enjoy a pleasure, that only a short time ago people were only able to experience at home. However, when we examine the individuals – in their twenties – and living in at least fairly urban areas, I must ask if they view this concept of virtual solitude as anything but normal. After all, their only experience has been living with these technological toys since childhood.

It is this potential naivety that brings me to question our ability to recognize the downfalls of a lifestyle without true solitude. How often does a young, working adult separate from their phone, ipod, computer, and just rest, in silence, and alone? In casually asking individuals I could not find one person in their early twenties that could remember their most recent solitary moment. However solitude can be immensely important as “it enables men and women to get in touch with their deepest feelings; to come to terms with loss; to sort out their ideas; to change attitudes. In some instances even the enforced isolation of prison may encourage the growth of the creative imagination” (Storr 62). We also become dishonest with ourselves in regards to solitude. We say we are “alone” when instead we are only distracting ourselves through technology such as music, TV, or computers.

The Importance of True Solitude

I asked a Marriage Family Therapist named Madeline Shelby about the concept of distracting ourselves instead of experiencing true solitude. She feels that you can not know your own body’s rhythm or comfort zone if you don’t experience it. Furthermore, “you don’t experience that when you are watching television, you’re playing a computer game, or you’re plugged into music.” This young generation of adults finds “virtual realities” the norm. Not realizing the dishonest trap which is feeding their stress, and feeding the lack of true solitude. True solitude is a valuable aspect of one’s life, if they use it properly. Solitude can provide serenity, a better understanding of one’s self, and a tool to combat stress. Katherine Philip wrote a poem called “La Solitude de St. Amant” in which the first few lines state:

                        “O! Solitude, my sweetest choice
Places devoted to the night,
Remote from tumult, and from noise,
How you my restless thoughts delight!
O Heavens! What content is mine,
To see those tress which have appear’d
From the nativity of Time,
And which hall ages have rever’d,
To look to-day as fresh and green,
As when their beauties first were seen!” (1.1-10)

As I read this first part of Philip’s poem, it reminds me of the pure joy solitude can bring, experiencing the emotions that unveil when a person steps away from the hustle and bustle of the day-to-day to look inside themselves. As Cheryl Richardson wrote once: “the key to building confidence and self-esteem you’ll need to lead your life lies in developing a strong relationship with yourself. To do this you must defy society’s pull towards preoccupation with what’s happening “out there” by turning your vision inwards.” (42) Sadly, these benefits of solitude become overshadowed by the dishonest cycle I spoke of previously. When people consciously or (most likely) unconsciously tell themselves they are experiencing the benefits of solitude while listening to their ipod or while surfing the web, they are actually missing out on the joyous aspect of true solitude. “When we know that our happiness comes from inside, we can always dive in and come out feeling refreshed.” (Goldstein and Sores 12)

Staying Connected - To Others’ Needs

As young adults in our culture work to climb the corporate ladder, they are often times sacrificing their personal time simply because they have the ability to do so with easy access to their phone or email. Maybe this sacrifice is compounded by the lack of true solitude in their life as of yet, or maybe it is simply the ability to connect to work at all hours. Or there is the possibility that they just have a hard work ethic and are doing as much as possible. Ambition did not have this negative impact on previous generations who were forced to leave work at the office. This is not the case for today’s generation though, and now ambitious men and woman can end up never unplugging.

This lack of defining professional and personal time is causing a shift in our culture’s working trends. According to Business Know-How, there has been a two-way shift in the working environment, representing a line blurring between business and personal time. “Forty percent of employees put in overtime or take work home with them at least once a week”, and “seventy-five percent of employees who work outside the home take care of personal responsibilities while they are on the job at least once a month…” (“Taking Care of Personal Business on Work Time”) Although this fact shows a decrease in clarity between personal and work time, it does not mean technology is the direct cause. I believe it is a culmination of many aspects, one of which is that technology has made it too easy to blur this line. In addition, we have the individuals who have forgotten about the importance of true solitude, which can be found in the personal time that is growing absent. Another aspect however, is the changing corporate world. Business Week wrote an article on this topic, and why it is causing many businessmen and women to increase their workloads (or at least make them think they need to). One point they made was that “globalization and the internet create great new opportunities, but they also ratchet up the intensity of competition and generate more work...” (“The Real Reasons You’re Working So Hard”) Naturally, the group of individuals I keep coming back to – those young businessmen and woman – need to work and compete that much more in most places, in order to make up for their lack of “on the job” experience. As one individual stated “for the workaholic, the constant contact offered by a mobile can become an emotional umbilical cord and his relationship with his phone can compete with his real relationships.”(“Technology Verses Solitude – The Ultimate Battle”)

Virtual Connections – a Lack of Honesty

Although the use of technology results in increased communication capabilities, I fear this use may confuse the younger generations. The reason being, these individuals are growing up and entering the workforce with an increase of connections via email, phone, and text. We seem to be increasing our virtual connections with people, while letting our face-to-face time fall to the side. This new type of connection has downsides. The trend of dishonesty within our culture is being promoted by the ability to communicate evasively through impersonal typing and a lack of necessity in face-to-face interaction. When I interviewed a woman that was in her early twenties and had used technology regularly her entire life, she described a benefit in this type of communication when saying “You don’t have to be there for the person’s reaction…you can just do it over text, there’s no tears that come out of it, you can pretend like your feeling one way when you are not, and they can not see your facial expressions…and it makes it easier.” Although I can imagine scenarios that this ability could have benefits, I can’t help but fear this generation’s lack of honesty with each other during emotional or confrontational times. After all, how can people truly connect with each other with such uncertain communication? Madeline Shelby, MFT agreed with me when she said “you don’t have that ability to gauge through your eyes or you intuition or through…not to say that we all touch each other when we are around each other, but having someone being able to reach out. You know you get a lot of comfort from that…” Dan McAdams, a Professor of Psychology whom has written multiple books and numerous articles on intimacy, agrees with Madeline. In one of his books he describes how intimate people act. “…at subtle ways in which they express warmth and tenderness in their relationships….they may touch each other, position themselves in close physical proximity to each other…one of the most basic channels through which this commitment is made is the face, through smiling, laughter, and eye contact.” (82-83)

We can not forget that these people are the same individuals that for the most part lack true solitude in their lives. Many professionals feel that in order to have true connections and intimacy with other people, you must first have an intimacy with yourself. A privilege only gained when willing to look inwardly and learn about ones’ self. “Meaningful alonetime, it turns out, is a powerful need and a necessary tonic in today’s rapid-fire world. Indeed, solitude actually allows us to connect to others in a far richer way.” (Buchholz) Again this shows us how a lack of true solitude and self assessment only increases our inability to connect with others.

Multi-tasking: Convenient or Stressful?

The need to unplug is the dilemma faced by today’s generation. I have described a generation that in many ways is naïve to the importance of solitude for their mental health. A generation that knows only the world of multi-tasking through the constant use of technology, a generation that is entering the workforce in a corporate culture which is demanding more than previous generations. It is my belief that this formula will cause many individuals chronic stress. Although the word ‘stress’ is commonly used flippantly, it is not to be taken lightly. When a person is under stress for a long period of time, it is considered to be “chronic stress”. “Over time, chronic stress can have an effect on the immune system…cardiovascular disease…muscle pain…stomach and intestinal problems…skin problems…” and more. (“Effects of Stress”)

Currently, people are introduced to the multi-tasking, over-stimulated world of technology at a younger age than ever before. Kids are playing video games, owning cell phones, and on computers at very young ages. “Today's 9-year-old wants her own cell phone…” (Petrecca) Being “plugged in” can cause people to feel hurried, or can cause an overly stimulated lifestyle – both of which have the ability to cause chronic stress in the long term. This is true for children as well. As we look at introducing technology to our children, we must remember the need to watch for stressors in their life due to the increased technology. In the article Stress and Young Children, it is explained that “…excessive stress can have both immediate and far-reaching effects on children’s adaptability to new situations, even events that are seemingly unrelated to the specific stressful event.” (Jewett and Peterson)

The irony is that an extremely effective way to fight stress caused by the factors these individuals are facing is solitude itself. Mark Gorkin, LCSW recognized this need when he wrote an article designed to help the mental health of stressed individuals. He wrote; “The evolution of dysfunctional techno-dependency along with an undeveloped capacity of self-awareness and psychological integrity seem inevitable. So in my proposed ‘R & R’ schema, a key component of taking an incubation vacation involves unplugging electronically and turning in organically to the ultimate hi-tech and hi-touch computer – your own mind-body system.” Another suggested method to cope with stress is to “balance personal, work, and family needs and obligations.” (“Avoiding Unnecessary Stress”) Again, we have the method to cope with stress; balancing our personal and work time - battling the source of the stress; the personal and business lines blurring. Furthermore, increasing one’s focus as opposed to constantly multi-tasking can work to prevent stress from over-stimulation.


The Solution – Coming Back to Reality

 So how do you teach a generation consumed by technology, stimuli, virtual realities, and stressors that they need to unplug? It is not as easy as you may think. After all, as Anthony Storr reminds us “…noise is so ubiquitous that many people evidently feel uncomfortable in its absence” (34) This means the young men and women whom have become used to (or know no other) lifestyle, than of being plugged-in, will have to consciously force themselves into an unfamiliar psychological state, in order to clear their mind and reap the rewards of true solitude.

I have explained the “chains” that are attached to technology, such as an increased stress in our society, dishonesty through a broken communication, and a lack of true solitude. These side affects can be very serious if not addressed. More importantly, because technology is introduced at a younger and younger age, these children and young adults may not even recognize these issues exist. This naivety can cause a chain reaction for the children which can filter into adulthood. Missing out on self-identification time, mirroring of other people, and a consistent layer of dishonesty is interrupting the maturing process for people as they move into adulthood. Mirroring alone is one of the most important aspects of face-to-face communication, because it is extremely valuable in the maturing process. It is the process of learning about yourself through other peoples’ reactions to you. “Our family members (parents, children, siblings) often play major roles of mirroring for us. This is because it is more difficult for us to run and hide from them. Besides, avoiding our mirrors is unproductive because, sooner or later a bigger mirror will appear to present, perhaps in a different way, exactly what you are trying to avoid.” (Desy) These are not the types of lessons you can learn through text chat. Mirroring is often done through body language, which again is only appreaciated when communicating face-to-face. “Body language is an important part of communication which can constitute 50% or more of what we are communicating.” (Using Body Language) Fifty percent or more! Just think of the disconnect when you take a way such an important aspect of communication. The so-called increased connectivity is very deceptive (some may even say dishonest). We are not increasing our connections. We may be increasing one type of communication, however our relationships are suffering from a lack of true connectedness.

Since technology is, now more than ever before, entering children’s lives, I believe this is where we need to start in order to prevent the “chains” from dragging on into adulthood. Obviously there are many benefits to technology, and it is important for children to be prepared for using technology as they get older. For this reason, I do not suggest taking technology away from children, but instead take action to prevent the negative side effects. The first step in this process is to implement mandatory times in which everyone in the family un-plugs. We have all seen the commercials asking parents to sit down for dinner as a family to open the lines of communication and stay involved in their children’s’ life. Family Guide, an online resource for families describes this need well when they say “The importance of regular family activities to share ideas and “what’s happening” is a great way for a parent to be involved, discuss rules, monitor activities and friends, and be a good role model. The benefits of eating together will last long after your meal ends, especially if you make family mealtimes a regular activity.” (Get Involved: The Importance of Family Mealtime) Parents could easily take this a step further by asking parents to un-plug their family and sit down together for dinner as often as possible. This one simple step helps in numerous areas as it teaches children to unplug regularly, shows by example where family values fit in the list of worldly demands, and promotes daily face-to-face communication.

Additional actions can be taken by parents in order to stop the negative side effects of technology from affecting their children’s lives. One of these side effects is a lack of focus due to over-stimulation, and the stresses that can result from it. For this reason I highly suggest parents keep the TV, video games, and computer games off during the school week. Children should be allowed to focus on their responsibilities and learn how to focus on tasks without having ten other things to think about. Furthermore, since the technological toys are only used during the weekends, there needs to be a mandatory un-plug time each Saturday and Sunday of at least an hour, in addition to meal times. This will assure that the child will feel comfortable with solitude, and it will not be something feared or avoided when they get older. Allowing the child to have this alone time will make it easier for them to integrate solitude into their lives when they become adults – providing them with the valuable self-actualization time aforementioned.

For the adults whom I have been speaking of primarily in this paper, the adults that have grown-up with technology, who are living in this competitive corporate world, who are used to the disconnected communication found in our culture today – what can they do to break the chains of technology? Unfortunately they are going to have to implement something that most likely will be uncomfortable at first – solitude. “The importance, then, of finding at least some solitude, especially in our busy times, cannot be overestimated.” (“The Practice of Silence and Solitude) Time alone, using methods such as meditation, needs to be the first step in the process of breaking the chains. The reason I suggest solitude as the first step is more then just getting them to un-plug, it is about gaining a greater understanding of themselves, which can empower them to define clear boundaries regarding their professional and personal time. This understanding is also necessary in order to truly connect honestly with others. Rae Andre, PhD explains that although “…solitude is not sufficient for achieving self-actualization, it is necessary precursor to it.” (228)

In “Nutcracker.com” David Sedaris writes “It was my father’s dream that one day the people of the world would be connected to one another through a network of blocky, refrigerator-size computers…When predicting this utopia, he would eventually reach a point where words failed him. His eyes would widen and sparkle at the thought of this indescribable something more. ‘I mean, my God’ he’d say, ‘just think about it’. My sisters and I preferred not to. I didn’t know about them, but I was hoping the people of the world might be united by something more interesting, like drugs or an armed struggle against the undead.” (142) Although I don’t share in Sedaris’ fear of computers, I do believe in the seriousness in the chains of technology I have described. On the same token, I believe that if we start helping our children adjust to our changing culture, we can help them to not miss any part of the maturity process and reach a level of honesty worthy of pride.

Works Cited

Andre, Rae. Positive Solitude: A Practical Program for Mastering Loneliness and Achieving Self-Fulfillment. New York: Harper Collins Publisher, 1991
“Avoiding Unnecessary Stress”. WebMD. 27 Sept. 2007 <http://www.webmd.com/balance/stress-management/stress-management-avoiding-unnecessary-stress>
Buchholz, Ester. “The Call of Solitude: How spending time alone can enhance intimacy. Being alone can fuel life.” Psychology Today. 12 Dec. 2007 <http://www.psychologytoday.com/articles/pto-19980201-000034.html>
Calonico, Annie. Personal Interview. 1 Nov. 2007
Desy, Phylameana lila. “What Are Our Mirror Reflections Trying toTeach Us?” About.com. 5 Dec. 2007 <http://about.com/cs/selfactualization/a/mirrors.htm>
“Effects of Stress.” WebMD. 27 Sept. 2007 <http://www.webmd.com/balance/Stress-Management/Stress-Management-Effects-of-Stress>
“Get Involved: The Importance of Family Mealtime”. Family Guide. 11 Dec. 2007 <http://www.family.samhsa.gov/get/mealtime.aspx>
Goldstein, Joan and Manuela Sores. The Joy Within: A beginner’s guide to meditation. New York: Prentice Hall Press, 1990
Gorkin, Mark. “Designing a Receptive and Reflective Incubation Vacation: The Stress Doc's Prescriptive Interventions for Uncommon R & R”. Mental Help. 18 Oct. 2007 <http://www.mentalhelp.net/poc/view_doc.php?type=doc&id=123>
Hall, Edward. The Dance of Life. New York: Anchor Books, 1983
Jewett, Jan and Karen Peterson. “Stress and Young Children”. At Health. 30 Nov. 2007 <http://www.athealth.com/Consumer/disorders/childstress.html>
Mandel, Michael, Steve Hamm, Carol Matlack, Christopher Farrell, and Ann Therese Palmer. “The Real Reasons You’re Working So Hard…and what you can do about it.” Business Week. 27 Sept. 2007 <http://www.businessweek.com/print/magazine/content/05_40/b3953601.htm?chan=gl>
McAdams, Dan P. Intimacy: The Need To Be Close. New York: Doubleday, 1989
Petrecca, Laura. “Cell Phone Marketers Calling All Preteens”. USA Today. 6 Dec. 2007 < http://www.usatoday.com/tech/products/gear/2005-09-05-preteen-cell-phones_x.htm>
Philip, Katherine. “La Solitude de St. Amant”. 14 Nov. 2007 <http://www.jimandellen.org/womenspoetry/solitude.html>
Richardson, Cheryl. Stand Up For Your Life: Develop the Courage, Confidence, and Character to Fulfill Your Greatest Potential. New Your: The Free Press, 2002
Sedaris, David. Me Talk Pretty One Day. New York, Boston: Little, Brown and Company, 2000
Shah, Agam. “Global computer usage, cell phone ownership jump: A new study find that across the globe, more people are acquiring and using computers and cell phones, through some worry about the down sides to globalization”. InfoWorld. 18 Oct. 2007 <http://www.infoworld.com/article/07/10/05/Global-computer-usage-and-cell-phone-ownership-jump_1.html>
Shelby, Madeline. Personal Interview. 6 Nov. 2007
Storr, Anthony. Solitude: A Return to the Self. New York: The Free Press, 1988.
“Taking Care of Personal Business On Work Time”. Business Know-how. 11 Oct. 2007 <http://www.businessknowhow.com/manage/personalbusiness.htm>
“Technology Versus Solitude – The Ultimate Battle”. 14 Dec. 2007 <http://jambojandals.blogspot.com/2006/05/technology-verses-solitude-ultimate.html>
“The Practice of Silence and Solitude”. OSA, 14 Dec. 2007 <http://www.opusangelorum.org/Formation/Silenceandsolitude.html>
“Using Body Language”. Changing Minds. 16 Nov. 2007 <http://changingminds.org/techniques/body/body_language.htm>
“Virtual.” – Dictionary.com. 18 Oct. 2007 <http://dictionary.reference.com/browse/virtual>

Below is a description of my first interview for my paper. This interview took place November 1st 2007.

As I walk into Annie’s office it is no surprise to see her sitting in front of a computer. After all, what desk/office does not hold a computer these days? However, I also noted that next to her desk phone sat a small PDA (Personal Data Assistant) and her cell phone. Annie works for a privately owned bank in the San Francisco bay area. She both lives and works in San Francisco, and she was raised in a suburb outside of Sacramento, California.
I begin the interview by asking the “basics” – her full name is Annie Calonico and she is twenty three years old. I follow-up by asking her to give a general overview of how technology is used in her life. She quickly responds with “It pretty much it is my life…I am on email, internet, cell phone, text messaging, and ipod all day long.” I clarify what I already know – yes, she has a computer at home.
Although the age difference between Annie and me is not great, the technology growth between our years ages me. I wonder how technology came into her life. I ask for a description of not just when she can remember technology coming into her life, but to give me a basic ‘timeline’ of how technology came into her childhood. She explained that she can remember as early as kindergarten, playing video games. Shortly after that she was playing computer games, and it kept advancing from there. She said that she received her first cell phone at sixteen, and that she has never been without a cell phone since. I asked if she has any memories during her lifetime, that didn’t include technology as a component and the answer was “no”.
Since I wanted to get more opinions and sources in the area of “virtual relationships” – I asked Annie how she felt technology affects her relationships. Annie explained that even calling a friend is not very common now when they can instead just text message or email each other for a quicker response. She feels more connected to her friends due to this ability to communicate practically instantaneously, however recognizes that this type of communication does not have the emotion that face-to-face or even verbal communication has. Annie went on to identify with an ability to “hide” behind this type of communication. She explains that you can say more and paint different pictures due to the fact that “You don’t have to be there for the person’s reaction…you can just do it over text, there’s no tears that come out of it, you can pretend like your feeling one way when you are not, and they can not see your facial expressions…and it makes it easier.”
Along these lines, I ask her about possible downsides of this type of communication when I ask “what about miscommunication?” Annie says “Oh, yeah! I mean if you forget a comma, or if you capitalize something, or if you forget a word, it can totally make the whole context of what you are saying different from what you actually mean… I have had that happen all the time.” However, overall she feels there are more pros that cons with this type of communication because “you are always connected…you always know that they are there.”
This brings me to the next subject I want to ask her about…solitude. I ask her “can you tell me what you think of when I say ‘solitude’. She responds “being by yourself and being happy.” I find the second part of this answer interesting and follow it up by saying “so solitude is a positive thing then?” and she says “sure…being happy with yourself.” I then describe my paper’s definition of “true solitude”, and ask her “can you tell me the last time you had ‘true solitude’?” Without having to think she smirks and says “never…is everybody accessible, no matter where you are, no matter what time of day it is, everybody has a cell phone in their pocket or their purse.” She goes on to say that “even when it’s off, when you turn it on, you get everything that you missed.” I stop her here, to clarify that by turning it off, you could give yourself that true solitude – “do you think we are even giving ourselves that option anymore?” She says that no one she knows would ‘unplug’ by choice. “No one I know would turn off their cell phone for a couple of days to just unplug.”
In realizing what an extreme (and yet perfectly common) case Annie is in regards to this subject I ask her “well, knowing my definition of ‘true solitude’, do you think there could be any benefits to it?” She thinks and almost reluctantly says “there could be, but…I don’t know what.” In noticing her demeanor change I ask her “does just the idea of it make you uncomfortable” and again she quickly replies with “well, yeah, it just doesn’t sound like fun to me…I mean maybe if I was with someone in a cabin…but by myself in a cabin with no TV, no internet, no cell phone sounds like torture.”
Realizing that I am running out of time I ask her to switch gears for me for the final moments and rate the amount of stress in her life. I say ‘0’ is a care-free life, and ‘10’ having extreme stress, to the point of it manifesting negatively physically or negatively. She answers “8”. Since I know solitude is not a way of her dealing with stress I ask her what are some techniques she uses to relieve her stress. Annie says she works-out and hangs out with friends.
Overall I think the interview went very well, and I think the information I learned can be applied to many areas of my paper. As I left Annie’s office I told her about how I begged my husband let me use him as an experiment and to “unplug”, and how he refused to do so, even for a couple of days after work. She laughed and said “I would never do that either.”

Below you will find the full transcription of my interview with Madeline M. Shelby, MFT

Courtney: “Can you start off by saying your full name and your occupation?”
Madeline: “Madeline Michelle Shelby, Marriage Family Therapist.”
Courtney: “So, we just went over a brief description about the paper, and what the study is about. So, can you describe to me what stress is and how it manifests?”
Madeline: “Well that is pretty global…well I think there are all different kinds of stress. Physical stress, which would be if you didn’t eat enough, your body would be under stress. If you didn’t have enough water – your body would be under stress. Then there is definitely emotional stress, which usually comes you know, depending on what your, well I think it usually starts in childhood, and who raised you that if you didn’t have attachment to your parents, so that what happens is that every meeting with someone becomes discomfort, or you never get nourished because you don’t know how to make attachment…that in some ways, bring stress. That how your parents teach you how to cope with the world and how the help you to label your emotion or label what is going on or teach you about the day to day, that the more you have hands on or a sense of safely that there is someone there, and the world is explained, that to a point you have less stress about encountering whatever it is. Encountering people or..
Courtney: “whatever your trigger is.”
Madeline: “yes, whatever…so that’s where, stress, I see how people learn how to self-sooth and nurse themselves, or deal with discomfort. And I think that stress becomes other things. It becomes people expecting things of you, or you having to do something like when children or someone is abandoned, like if the parents have to work and a child is expected to take care of younger sister, and you don’t know how to…the stress of unknown.”
Courtney: “So, and you kind of touched on this, in this example, but can you go into a little more of what you see as common triggers of stress?”
Madeline: “Be a little more clear of what you mean by common examples/”
Courtney: “Um, well, I don’t want to give my own examples necessarily, but you know…things that you may see whether it be with your patients, or just in your relationships, or just in life…that you see are obviously triggers. Well, I guess one example that would probably be a big one would be work. That would be an especially common trigger.”
Madeline: “Well I think that lets go back, kind of thing…like if you were raised in a family where people yelled a lot. So that confrontation, like if you were uncomfortable with that, that any time you would feel like you would have to talk to someone, or say something that you have to set a boundary with, that that would bring discomfort and that would be great stress. Or if you were a poor writer and you were in school and you had to write papers, and just the thought of doing it brings up stress. If you had any kind of trauma, and how many of us don’t have it, so if you’ve been in any type of traumatic situation, having abuse, to having been in a car accident, to being in one of these bad situations where someone comes into a school with a gun. That what happens is that any thing related to something with those incidents, like someone else with a loud voice, or seeing someone with a gun, or seeing a stranger…any of those things can become a trigger. It’s almost like, where ever, how do I say this because I am being abstract…it’s like where ever...”
Courtney: “Well what I am hearing you say is it is much more of a historical, and experience related, than necessarily just a trigger in life. That it is more based on the experience you have and the process of going through it again in some manifest…that that is more of the trigger.
Madeline: “Right. I think that for some people, working all day in the sun would be a stress, where for other people who enjoy being out in the sun all day and enjoy doing hard work it is a pleasure. So in some ways it is kind of inherent about where you started, and what was the norm, and what felt at ease. But these days it’s the rushing that is a stress, multi-tasking around work and that becomes a stress, or it becomes socially – are you appropriate, did you where…I mean the world creates areas that are going to become stressful. Are you thin enough? Are you pretty enough? Did you wear the right clothes? Or…where they become ‘artificial stressors’, I want to call them artificial. That is very different from knowing that you have to go out and make enough money that day to just have food on the table. Which is a real stressor compared to, did you have a bad hair day.” But, at certain times having a bad hair day is just as stressful…you know, if you are in junior high that is just as stressful because the peer pressure is there.”
Courtney: “Right, that is true. I want to get back to what you were just touching on there in a minute. I want to…well, we discussed the profile of the people I am really focused on in this particular paper. Have you noticed or heard about increased stress with this profile in general? Whether it be that they are expected to work harder or faster or just the multi-tasking…or any of that.”
Madeline: “Um, okay and we are talking about the twenty -something’s?”
Courtney: “yeah”
Madeline: “Well I think that, I mean my experience with working with some of these people in this age group is that there is an ease that a lot of people who didn’t have it [technology] you know growing up, there is an ease, but…do in know if there is stress related to it…I don’t know personally about that.”
Courtney: “Okay, that’s fine. Do you think there is a speed at which things are moving right now that can affect, and not necessarily just negatively, but just in general do you think that…well, how do you think that can affect somebody?
Madeline: “Well, let me just go back a little bit to that other question. I think that people that aren’t raised with it, so let’s say another age group…they are constantly struggling with how to adapt and shift into this technology and to feel accomplished and so there is a lot of stress around that. So that the people that have made it okay, then there isn’t any stress about being on the computer all the time, and using all this technology. So I don’t know about, ‘do the twenty-something’s’ feel a stress. I know that it seems that everything has to go [snaps her fingers quickly] faster. I think that there is expectations that things have to move, and that if things don’t…like, so if you have to wait in line longer, which is not using technology, but the point is that like if you have to be somewhere where things don’t move like this [snaps her fingers again], or your computer, or there is always a new hook-up for your computer that is faster, faster, faster. It does create stress. I don’t know that it creates stress for everybody, but the ones you hear about are the ones that have to have the newest thing, the newest technology, or make it a point to have to be faster than anyone else because their success rides on that. I haven’t seen people like that in my practice.”
Courtney: “Well, it’s funny because the example you used about waiting in line was a very similar example in one of my earlier papers that I wrote about this topic, which was that, we are getting to a point now that we’re getting to a point now that we don’t know what patience is. That even waiting for a table for more than five minutes is such a…that you need to complain.”
Madeline: “Well there is no learning curve. I was at some store the other day, where was I? Oh, I know. This weekend I was at Yosemite and I was trying to catch the sunset on Half Dome and we had a period, and we had time to go to the store and get something and walk down into the meadow and go see it because it really turns pink and its like okay, we got to get there and take a photograph. So we had a half-hour and we go to the store which is literally like only a three minute walk from the meadow, and this guy was a new on the cash register. So everything he was ringing up he had to look up, everything, everything, everything, and every time he’d put in the money in for the change he would put the wrong amount in. So it took us 25 minutes to do something that would have taken ten minutes. And I…obviously this guy was on a learning curve. There is no room for that any more I don’t think. That was expected to the point that he was having a really hard time and no one was coaching him. But the thing is that I think that there is no more learning curve around that. That there is patience about someone to learn. That you are expected to catch on with technology faster, and that if you’re not in that mindset, or you haven’t had that in school, or if you come from somewhere that you didn’t have a computer at home. And I think that I don’t know what that is like, because I think you would catch that more at school. More kids are going to come in and they don’t have the technology down that I am assuming that would cause more stress for them because they can’t make that, they can’t make those leaps. Where as if someone gave you a cell phone at seven, and taught you how to use it or something.”
Courtney: “Well yeah, and again I want to get back to this too because I think it really does kind of come around to…you know…really is all of this a negative thing for this generation that grew up with it? But I do want to come back to that. Let me just go back to stress in itself, again, very general question here, but – how serious is stress? How serious should it be taken?”
Madeline: “Well I think it is life threatening. That’s where hypertension is from. That’s where high blood pressure is. I was looking to a program today on a program on KPFA that they were saying, I had never heard this, is they said that they really felt that diabetes was a stress disease, because you put so much stress on your body with this whole chemical thing, which I can not remember, and that what happens is you wind up eating of sugars, that stresses the body. So depends…it can be the pressure to perform that makes you nervous, that makes you anxious, that then leads to you feeling tense, that leads to heart-attack through all these things it can be that you are eating the wrong foods. So I think stress, you know, I don’t know but I think it is way up there, like number one, outside of car accidents, or whatever the top killer is. That it is way up there, because I don’t think that…”
Courtney: “Well it is linked to so much”
Madeline: “Yeah, it is definitely, when I look at when people come in here and they have an alcohol problem…I don’t see drug problems per say, and I mostly see people that are in recovery. I don’t actively with people. That most of them started self-medicating because of stress. Now there is…the way that they look at alcoholism for the most part, is that it is a disease, that it is hereditary. But most people start using because it is a symptom reliever, because they want to lower their stress, because it works so well. It works very well for that, alcohol works very well for that unfortunately. But when I work with people with stress it is because…most people when they come having had a trauma, having too many expectations, being to run out, or they don’t have something, and what happens is they have an emotional response to it as if they are not doing enough, they can’t do enough, they don’t know how to do enough, they are overwhelmed, and there is only so much your nervous system will take when it goes into fight or flight, which is the whole trauma response, which is stress.”
Courtney: “So what are some techniques that you recommend when dealing with stress?”
Madeline: “I think the first and the easiest is exercise. You know it is not my field, you know it is not my field, but you hear it everywhere and it works and like for most people to get anxiety out of their body, is exercise and doing something aerobic. Um, I do/teach people self hypnosis or do stress management, which basically starts with doing full body relaxations and doing deep breathing and doing what is called guided imagery. Where you basically put yourself in another frame of mind, like what you do is you relax and what you do is you see yourself on a beach, in a place enjoying something, and what you do is you bring all your senses online, so you smell the air and you feel your feet in the water, you hear the sound of the ocean, you feel the sun on your skin, and you feel that ease of being relaxed. And what happens is you basically change your body chemistry. So you go out of being in a…where you walked in...in a different frame of mind. If you walked in feeling stressed and you haven’t eaten or you…you know…what you are doing is you are putting yourself into a vacation and it works very well because it calms your nervous system down. What else? Meditation, yoga…things where what you do is you become focused. And for a lot of people it is solitude. It is that coming together of allowing your mind to stop, not going into what people call negative thinking, and to bring yourself into your body and relieve the muscle tension that is there and bring the breathing that brings the breathing to a place that it is very deep in your belly, where if you’re breathing down into your belly button what happens is you expand your lungs and you expand your diaphragm so you have much more oxygen, and that oxygen calms you down.”
Courtney: “and you said focus…and solitude, and I want to touch on that because as you know I am kind of looking at the ‘plugged-in generation here. What I am calling the ‘plugged-in’ generation here,  that going back to this concept that if this is what they are used to…then, um…do you thin that the true solitude will have the same affect on them?
Madeline: “You know that is a good question. I actually don’t know the answer to that but what I know is that if you’re not in touch with yourself and your own rhythm so that you know…all I can say is that you know what your own body rhythm is, or your own comfort zone is that you don’t know that unless you experience that. You don’t experience that when you are watching television, you’re playing a computer game, or you’re plugged into music. Because all those are on some level is a trance. And what you are is, in a way is in a guided experience and it’s an out of body experience. It can be calming and it can be relaxing and in a way that is where self-hypnosis puts us. You can be doing art work by yourself or reading by yourself, you can be very calm and it’s a solitude in a way and it may relieve your stress but I think that’s also different from knowing what your own kind of rhythm is…which usually comes more from, um, just being with yourself. Knowing, thinking, taking a walk, looking around, being in the now, compared to being in the distraction. Those distractions can be terrorizing or exciting, they can also be comforting. I mean you could be listening to your favorite music and calm down...that is different from just being with yourself and learning to calm yourself down.“
Courtney: “So you do see benefits to both types of solitude then in that sense?”
Madeline: “right”
Courtney: “and I know that we are running out of time, so I just want to ask one more quick questions which is to touch on the whole face-to-face relationships. The fact that there is less and less…or I should say more communication that isn’t face-to-face. How do you think that is going to affect relationships or how important do you think that face-to-face time is in relationships?
Madeline: “Well I think it is super important because I think that babies learn how to be in the world and how to be comforted by being able to see their parents reaction. I mean all the beginning focusing and the attachment, I mean I can’t remember when eye sight and all that happens, but all of it is…you get your queues and you know how to relate to another person often times by picking up the queues and what’s going on with the voice and the face. I mean autism…the kids that are autistic, they are missing that piece a lot of times of being able to pick up, a lot of times, on the queues of relating. So we get all of that from the moment we are born and that sense of attachment and that connectedness with people. I think that what you loose out on by not having face-to-face is that you don’t have that [connectedness] and you don’t know how to trust it, and that’s where the nuances of relationship are. If you’re talking to someone online and they are saying…if you say ‘how do you feel about this’ and they are going ‘oh great’ but and/or compared to you asking them that and you see their eyes or you see something shift, or there face tightens or whatever, you are missing that whole fact that they are feeling uncomfortable, unsafe, vulnerable, angry, whatever. So, and you can’t pick that up online.”
Courtney: “So what are your thoughts on the fact that I had interviewed…the previous interview that I did was with a women in this profile, and I was talking to her about integrated technology is, and that was actually was seen as one of the benefits of this type of communication is that you can hide behind it. Do you think that that is a…healthy way of..?”
Madeline: “I think it is a tool if you don’t want to be connected. I think that is the way people, I have talked to so many people, probably done it myself except I don’t use the computer that much, but how many people decide that they are going to make a connection with someone they feel obligated to, but they don’t want to have to talk with them and they don’t really have to share and they use email, and they use something of that sort. And they use a language that is evasive…and, yes, you can hide behind it. I think that there is little relationship made and that I think there is a whole new sense that….how can I say this…I almost want to say that there is a phony…what I would call phony sense of relationship by just using email because people think you are sincere but it really isn’t because you don’t have that visual. You don’t have that ability to gage through your eyes or you intuition or through…or even I think…not to say that we all touch each other when we are around each other, but having someone being able to reach out. You know you get a lot of comfort from that, compared to someone saying ‘oh hey, I’m with ya man’…you know that is a really big difference.”
Courtney: “Well thank you so much. I know that it’s time.”