💗 Living Heart:full

Adulting in the Age of the Internet

This is not a philosophical treatise on the post-modern millennial condition (although I wish it were). This is an emotionally packed yet elaborate rant on my personal experience of being a millennial nowadays and my desperate attempt to philosophize and make sense of it for my own sanity. I’m simply articulating what I feel and think because I know I’m not alone. If you feel that everyday life has become somewhat overwhelming and you’re on the edge, let me assure you that the problem isn’t with you or me, it’s far bigger. Here’s what no one told us about adulting in the age of the internet and modern technology, or what they’ve come to call hypermodernity.

To all my fellow millennials out there —those born from the late 1980s till the early 1990s, can you remember your first ever encounter with a computer? Mine was right at the beginning of the new millennium in 2002. At the age of nine, my school teachers taught us how to design simple computer games. A few years later, I was given my first phone: the infamous antenna-based Nokia 6110.

Unlike Generation Z —those born from the late 1990s till 2010s who are considered digital natives, we have memories of the innocent times in our childhood before modern technology took hold of our lives. It wasn’t until our adolescence that most of us had personal computers and mobile phones. Then with the gradual rise of the internet, the way we did things slowly started to change. Look how far we’ve come.

In today’s post-modern life, we have instant accessibility and exposure to almost anything we can possibly seek and desire. Modern technology has rendered a new frontier —once in the realm of science fiction— possible. Anything that can be ‘digitized’ already has been and will soon be. But it also means we have unleashed Pandora’s box of new challenges, rules and consequences. We are relentlessly marching into a techno-solutioned future and there is little to no clue of what will unfold from hereon or how it can ever be undone.

What has it unleashed and why is it dangerous, you ask? Here’s what I’ve come to experience as the biggest aftermath in the technology-driven social reality we find ourselves in: we are drowning in excess. Even the word ‘excess’ alone isn’t enough to describe it; we are drowning in hyper-excess: an excess exacerbated by modern technology beyond all reason and measure.

We are now living in a digital hyperreality —not a reality, and we are drowning in excess of it.

Due to this tech-enabled society, it seems we have become hyper-exposed to everything because everything is now hyper-accessible. But in turn, we are becoming hyper-concerned with every aspect of our lives, lifestyle and leisure, while leaving little concern to our spirits. And despite being digitally hyperconnected more than ever, we are more socially disconnected as ever from each other. The internet has enabled us to create digital representations of our own lives and yet we subconsciously mistake it for reality whenever it is projected forth by others. In short, we are now living in a digital hyperreality —a reality terraformed by technology— not a reality, and we’re drowning in excess of it.

Part 1: The Issue at Hand

In efforts to make sense of my own experience, not just as a concerned global citizen but a human being first and foremost whose only existence will ever be in the here and now, I have come to observe 5 key phenomena or ‘features’ of hypermodern life which we seem to be drowning in; let’s look at each phenomenon below.

1. Hyper-exposure: Too much ‘content’ for our brains to consume

The first thing we find ourselves drowning in is information. We’re now just one click away from endless streams of content: books, blogs, news articles, social media feeds, memes, podcasts, movies, series, songs, videos, courses, emails, posts and stories; you name it. The word ‘content’ has come to represent yet another thing in life to be consumed for one’s mere leisure and pastime, not necessarily benefit.

Every single day, the average person probably watch tens of videos, reads a couple of articles, watches a movie (or series) and scrolls through hundreds of social media posts, only to do it all over again the next day. But what does it all amount to, really, if it will soon be forgotten? I say it’s mostly fleeting fluff; something that takes up volume in one’s headspace but has no real weight or impact. Or in the words of Joey Tribbiani from Friends, “it doesn’t matter; it’s moo.”

Image result for it's moo joey

This excess of content could be due to the fact that ‘content creation’ has become the go-to business and monetization strategy to generate profit online. The only way to survive and thrive online nowadays is to create ‘killer content’ that goes viral, create even more ‘filler content’ injected with key words optimized for being discovered by search engines (aka SEO), capture users’ attention with paid advertising, or spend a fortune piggybacking on influencer audiences. That’s why it’s getting exponentially harder to distinguish pure from false gold, because we are drowning in excess of it.

How many times a day do we drown in a multitude of ‘infinity pools’ of content (aka social media feeds on Facebook, Twitter, Youtube, Instagram, Snapchat, TikTok, LinkedIn…etc)? How many times, when left to our own devices (pun intended), do we end up indulging ourselves in an excess of ‘guilty pleasures’ (like binge-watching Netflix) because they are easily and readily one click away? Only to emerge hours later feeling emptier inside and remembering nothing but a fraction of what has been consumed. This continual exposure and consumption of novelty has cultivated in most of us a sinister, subconscious, addictive habit of pursuing instant gratification, and has left us suffering from an overall sense of desensitization and increased numbness to actual real-life experiences.

The bad news is that turning away from all that novelty takes an incredible amount of discipline and self-restraint, which many of us already struggle with, especially when apps are being intentionally designed to capitalize on our susceptibility to addictive behaviours and feed on our worst habits. It’s not enough to limit our daily social media consumption anymore, so some of us have resorted to removing the temptation altogether by going on ‘digital detoxes’.

Hyper-exposure to novelty has left us suffering from an overall sense of desensitization and increased numbness to actual real-life experiences.

This begs the question: are our ‘evolved’ brains actually cut out for this? Can we handle all of this excess or are we gradually starting to experience the repercussions? Alas, it seems it’s the latter. Our attention spans are getting shorter than ever before. Our ability to focus, stay motivated and keep calm is in decline, yet we are told to believe that a bunch of apps could help fix what other apps in fact broke; how ironic. And though we’ve finally discovered that multi-tasking is counter-productive, we still do it like crazy. Even the way we learn new information —which is now bite-sized, increasingly passive and less dependent on genuine human interaction— has led to the fragmentation of individual knowledge. For the knowledge workers out there —those of us whose main capital and source of livelihood is knowledge, it has become almost impossible to follow the demanding pace of industry trends and perpetual flux of information. And for those who have many interests and diverse pursuits like myself, I can’t help but think that following our curiosity might someday damage our brains from the exposure overdose.

2. Hyper-accessibility: Too many ‘options’ to choose from

The causal relationship between accessibility and exposure has left us feeling constantly overwhelmed by the possibilities and paralyzed by the potential, more than empowered. We are drowning in abundance, leading to what author Barry Schwartz described as the “Paradox of Choice: how too much of a good thing has proven detrimental to our psychological and emotional well-being.”

The proliferation of ‘all you can eat, drink, shop, watch and play’ non-places (such as online and offline marketplaces) resemble tech-enabled genies ready to satisfy each and every whim of our hearts’ desires. The thing is, even our whims are getting exhausted. I personally feel even more pressure and responsibility to make the right choice whenever I come to buy anything. Every purchase now becomes a task and requires its own due diligence and comprehensive survey research before reaching any conclusive decision. Imagine thoroughly browsing a 40-page restaurant menu only to pick and try a dish you ended up disliking. After all these choices, wouldn’t it be preposterous if one ended up making the wrong one?! No wonder people’s stress and anxiety levels are on the rise.

As a result, many of us now experience what they call ‘decision fatigue’ due to the increasing number of decisions we are compelled to make on a daily basis while running on our limited human capacity of attention and energy. On many occasions, I find myself slipping into a ‘don’t care’ condition when it comes to what to wear, eat and even do —to the point of apathy. I end up choosing any option —however emotional or irrational— merely for the sake of having made a choice. Ever since that realization, I have come to appreciate the act of setting routines and choosing familiarity over novelty in order to cope with the sheer volume of possibilities.

The thing is, this was one of the most awaited promises of technology: not just to make things easier, but to make things more accessible for the masses. Tech companies made it their mission to ‘democratize’, ‘universalize’ and ‘streamline’ their products and services to anyone, anytime, anywhere, then leave it up to the consumer to ‘decide’.

But the options for the decisions we need to make in everyday life have become simply too many to choose from. So we have to be ‘guided’ by advertising, word of mouth, referrals or complex AI-based algorithms in order to help us curate, filter and choose what to buy, watch, eat, see and do for the weekend. To live in the hypermodern age is to be able to curate one’s entire lifestyle, physical existence and virtual presence. To live in the age of hyper-excess is to learn to be a good consumer; you are free to decide what to consume.

3. Hyper-growth: Too much pressure to become your ‘best self’

Now that you have the potential to know anything and an all-access pass to get anything, you can become anything! Why not? The sky is no longer the limit… This notion of relentlessly pursuing personal development in order to achieve any degree of materialistic success is by far what has influenced me the most, and not necessarily for the better. It’s true, growing up with the internet has radically helped shape my personality, knowledge, skillset, interests, hobbies and overall trajectory in life. No other generation has been exposed or given access to this advantage; a window to the entire world. But what I failed to see coming were the insidiously growing side-effects: a bitter mixture of anxiety, depression and discontentment, largely due to being hyper-exposed to this new globalized digital hyperreality.

On the surface, it seems that our generation has been given all the means and conditions to succeed: countless opportunities and infinite possibilities. A dream come true, right? But with this freedom to become anything, comes responsibility, and immense pressure, I might add. The pressure to succeed is higher than ever before, because it looks like we have no more excuses to fail, or do we? And for the ambitious high achievers out there who have huge expectations to manage, the pressure to become one’s best self with minimal mistakes from day one is daunting. Perfectionism and the fear of failure can end up seeping from our subconscious minds into everyday life to manifest as procrastination, so-called ‘laziness’ and even mental paralysis. I admit that I’ve fallen for this line of thinking and behaviour, and still unknowingly do at times.

Perhaps the pressure feels real because modern life for millennials who are trying to ‘adult’ has become a perpetual race and checklist of achievements without a finish line in sight. And not even rest stops are allowed on the way, because it means you’ll get very quickly left behind. It all starts from Kindergarten when older generations start grilling us with questions from what I call the ‘Perpetual Adulting Checklist’, even if they are well-intentioned:

What do you want to be when you grow up? What’s up with your grades? Which extracurricular activities will you take to keep you busy? Did you get a high-enough score in high school? What will you major in? When will you graduate? Did you find a decent job yet? What’s your ‘passion’? Which path will you take: corporate, startup, freelancing or academia? When will you finish all the online courses you enrolled for, you lazy bum? Have you thought about graduate study? No fiancée yet? هنفرح بيكي إمتى (Arab ladies will relate)? Shouldn’t you be saving by now? Where is your car parked by the way? You got married, finally! Is there a baby on the way soon? Now’s the time to give them a sibling, you know…

Then they laugh and tell you to ‘relax’ because it’s not a race or competition. If it isn’t so, then why on earth does it feel like one?

There is a quote I stumbled upon by Alan Watts that perfectly sums up this never-ending state of frantically chasing the next ‘destination’ in life:

“A world which increasingly consists of destinations without journeys between them, a world which values only “getting somewhere” as fast as possible, becomes a world without substance. One can get anywhere and everywhere, and yet the more this is possible, the less is anywhere and everywhere worth getting to. For points of arrival are too abstract, too Euclidean to be enjoyed, and it is all very much like eating the precise ends of a banana without getting what lies in between. The point, therefore, of these arts is the doing of them rather than the accomplishments. But, more than this, the real joy of them lies in what turns up unintentionally in the course of practice, just as the joy of travel is not nearly so much in getting where one wants to go as in the unsought surprises which occur on the journey.”

– Alan Watts

How many of us are more concerned with the destination than the experience of the journey? How many of us disengage from our current reality because we always have something else to do or somewhere else to be? How many of us are continually haunted by the feeling of not having enough time, money, energy or skills in order to live up to our aspirations and achieve whatever it is we are pursuing? How many of us are being shadowed by the next meeting, event, appointment or activity on our calendars which are always lurking at the back of our minds? How many of us fixate on the past or worry about the future instead of dwell in the present?

The present moment becomes a source of discontentment because we’re not there yet, and we think that getting there will bring us that contentment. We end up running on an unstoppable treadmill and chasing mirages of unhealthy ideals like ‘doing it all’ or ‘having it all’, that were never in our reach to begin with; it’s the ultimate set-up for perpetual disappointment. No wonder that the percentage of people facing mental health challenges such as anxiety, depression and burnout are surging every year. Even therapy is no longer a taboo, simply because more and more people need it. Is that not compelling evidence that modern life is becoming hard to cope with for most of us, not just some of us? In a viral article which later became a book that spotlighted the causes and effects of burnout among millennials, Anne Helen Peterson claimed it has become the new millennial condition; it’s our default state of being.

We are increasingly plagued deep down with guilt that we are not doing enough and shame that we ourselves are not enough, no matter what we do or who we are. We’re always one step behind or on the wrong path, falling short of what society or our peers expect of us.

What fuels these feelings of guilt and shame? It’s not just the seemingly innocent questions we are bombarded with on a daily basis. It’s also what we tell ourselves and how we react or say to each other. It’s the endless social comparison we subconsciously or consciously engage in when encountering the ‘other’. It’s the torrent of hypercritical comments being poured every second on social media feeds. It’s the ridicule we witness whenever someone publicly fails, succeeds and/or tries to do anything new for that matter. It’s the verbal abuse we endure being hurled around us under the pretense of freedom of speech enabled by social media. It turns out however, similar to the effect of bullying, that every negative incident we experience has the potential to reinforce these feelings of shame —defined by author Brené Brown as the deep fear of disconnection and exclusion from others— whether we are consciously aware of them or not. We do this to ourselves and each other without even knowing it. We are shamed, then we feel ashamed, so we end up shaming others, and the cycle continues.

Despite all of this, the unrelenting drive to become one’s best self stems from a much deeper cause than self-actualization and peer pressure; it’s a feature of modern day capitalism. It’s part of the ether. It’s what the market demands. It’s what happens when people are continuously fed certain notions about achieving materialistic success, career fulfillment and self-actualization through one’s wage labor. It’s what happens to people when they themselves become products commodified to serve the system in order to reach the elusive end goal of perpetual progress. It’s what happens when the means (profit) become the end and the ends (people) become the means. In the ‘supercapitalist’ society we now live in —which measures human value based on their level of productivity and eliminates every strand of inefficiency to maximize the bottom line, personal development is no longer a luxury. If you stop becoming, then you become irrelevant. Personal branding is no longer negotiable. If you cannot be seen, then you do not exist. Learning is no longer a means of liberation. If it does not raise your market value, then it is of no use. And value is no longer intrinsic or metaphysical. If it cannot be seen or measured, then it shall be negated.

Personal development is no longer a luxury. If you stop becoming, you become irrelevant.

As a recovering workaholic myself, this was the hardest pill to swallow. I realized that throughout the years, I had unknowingly tied most of my self-worth to my achievements and career trajectory. Everything else was secondary to me. Then when I burned out and lost my most prized ability to ‘achieve’, I consequently lost all of my self-confidence and I’m still struggling to regain it. I put so much pressure on myself until I cracked under it. I was pretty good by everyone’s standards but never good enough by mine. I held myself to such high standards that it always made me fall short and that made me even more miserable. I still have a long way to go to counter this solely achievement-focused hyper-growth mindset, but awareness is the first positive step to any journey to recovery. If there was one benefit to my burnout though, it would be the realization that it was time to seriously reexamine my ultimate priorities in life and everyday lifestyle for the sake of my own well-being and future as a human being first and foremost.

I found out the hard way, that there are no shortcuts to the worthy things in life, no matter how easy life seemingly becomes. There are no products, apps, meds or hacks that can eliminate the pain or discomfort of being alive. The state of the human condition will forever remain a duality, no matter how much they keep convincing us otherwise. It’s not something that we can escape or that science, technology or the market can fix, now matter how hard they keep selling us otherwise. We’ve lost our sense of simply ‘being’ in the present or comfortably ‘dwelling’ in the duality, the real treasure to be experienced in the journey they call life.

4. Hyper-connectedness: Too many ‘connections’ to deal with

With the rise of social networks and the ability to connect digitally with everyone else on the planet, another excess we face is the sheer number of virtual interactions on a daily basis. Your typical next-door neighbour or the guy sitting next to you on a bus ride might have around 1000+ friends on Facebook and 500+ on Linkedin. In a busy week, they could have up to 100+ chat conversations, get bombarded with 500+ notifications, and receive a whopping 100+ friend requests from people they’ve probably never heard of. If everyone had these same levels of interaction, how long would it be before they get mentally and emotionally depleted? Not even extroverts could keep up the act. It’s no surprise that ‘unfollowing’, ‘deactivating’, ‘digital detoxing’, ‘screen timing’ and ‘unresponding’ have become common strategies that people resort to in order to keep their sanity intact.

I’ll admit that at first I thought being hyper-connected was a window of opportunity for me, due to my highly introverted nature. The Internet gave me a voice and presence I hadn’t dared to occupy in physical reality. It revealed a side of me that only a few knew about. But it also presented a torrent of new interactions that was on many occasions overwhelming. To this day, my over-flooded inbox of unanswered emails, chat messages, calls, comments and text messages remains and will remain a permanent source of shame and anxiety. It’s nothing personal towards those who reach out to me of course, but sadly my very limited capacity to engage and respond as a socially anxious introvert.

This hyper-connectedness also seems to defy our own evolution and bounded human capacity. Are we even hard-wired to handle this excess of human relationships? What are the consequences when it comes to the depth and strength of genuine human bonds? Can they even be considered ‘relationships’ or are they rightly named ‘connections’ that can be easily tied and untied? Relationships have become ‘liquid’, a term posed the philosopher Zygmunt Bauman —who has theorized about this notion extensively in his book ‘Liquid Love: On the Frailty of Human Bonds’.

“In today’s world, we establish connections more than relationships… The advent of virtual proximity renders human connections simultaneously more frequent and more shallow, more intense and more brief. Connections tend to be too shallow and brief to condense into bonds.”

Zygmunt Bauman

Bauman also sees that ‘virtual proximity’ (aka hyper-connectedness) may have accelerated the deterioration of genuine proximity in relationships; family and friends having dinner together might be in close physical proximity of each other, but their minds are adrift elsewhere. They become disengaged from their immediate physical reality and instead consumed by their virtual interactions in hyperreality.

To be fair, the evolution of technology is only one side of the coin; society being the other. Technology is driven not only by innovation but by necessity, or as they say, “Necessity is the mother of invention.” So what inspired the advent of social media? What kind of shift was already happening within society that consequently called for ubiquitous communication via the Internet? Author Brian Francis Culkin —who has written about the age of hypermodernity— observes that, “Facebook didn’t disintegrate the community, it’s a sign that the community had already disintegrated,” meaning that social media networks were simply trying to meet a need or solve a problem that already existed in society. This shows that there is an interactive relation between cause and effect. In philosophy, they call it a ‘dialectic’ between a given ‘thesis’ that arises from the status quo of society (e.g. the disintegration of local community relations) and its ‘antithesis’ (e.g. the rise of social media to attempt to reestablish these relations). The resulting ‘synthesis’ (e.g. the age of social media as the new status quo) soon becomes a new thesis (e.g. people becoming digitally connected but even further emotionally disengaged) that calls for a new antithesis (e.g. how can we restore proximity in relationships in the age of social media?), and so on.

So there seems to be a continuous interplay unfolding between societal change and technological development that has led to where we stand today and where we are heading tomorrow. Becoming aware of our relationship with technology and how social media affects our relationships with each other is the first crucial step to doing anything about it.

5. Hyperreality: Too good to be ‘true’

Thus we finally arrive at the all-encompassing phenomenon we find ourselves engulfed in; hyperreality. But what does it refer to? In simple terms, it means we come to experience a distorted version of reality.

The concept was first introduced by philosopher and theorist Jean Baudrillard in the 1980s to describe “the contemporary world as a simulacrum (an image or representation of something), where reality has been replaced by false images, to such an extent that one cannot distinguish between the real and the unreal.” (Source)

To illustrate the concept, look at what is below. What do you see?

The Treachery of Images - Wikipedia
‘The Treachery of Images’ —a 1929 painting by surrealist painter René Magritte.

Did you say pipe? Think again. That is not a pipe. That is an image of a pipe. There is a distinction between representation and reality. But to the post-modern mind, that distinction is not initially apparent and no longer even matters, because meaning and value are derived equally and identically from both. How we subconsciously process reality and representation becomes one and the same. The ‘image’ is regarded as real and perhaps even more real the ‘real’. Both end up shaping our over-arching worldview and molding our ways of being in the world.

Hyperreality is therefore the state of existence in which the lines between reality and representation have not only blurred, but merged indiscernibly into one. The plethora of representations is propagated by —you guessed it— technology. Our hyper-dependency on technology inconspicuously transforms our primary mode of living and being, like a camouflage hiding in plain sight. Our physical existence becomes inextricably intertwined with our virtual presence. We come to know reality not by our own senses but through a distorted meta-medium of images (e.g. contemporary news media and social media). We learn about the ways of living in the world not through first-hand experience but through vicarious representation (e.g. cinema, celebrities and pop culture). We tend to draw wisdom not from lived history but from contemporary mythology (e.g. The fictitious worlds of Disney, Marvel, DC Comics, Warner Bros…etc). We seek to fill our emotional needs not by fostering genuine human connection but by instant gratification from virtual stimuli (e.g. Netflix bingeing). We come to cope with our hyper-stressful everyday circumstances not through meaningful action or well-deserved rest but instead by numbing ourselves with useless entertainment (e.g. show business).

“Fulfillment or happiness is found through simulation and imitation of the real rather than through reality itself.”


What’s worse is that becoming immersed in digital hyperreality or intoxicated by all forms of contemporary media and unreal representations of reality not only triggers a fleeting sense of instant gratification, but leaves you immediately after with a looming sense of misery. That’s awfully similar to how addiction works. Today, there is no short supply of internet companies (Facebook, Twitter, Linkedin, Instagram, Snapchat, TikTok, Youtube, Netflix…etc) willing to fuel this addiction and give us unlimited dosage to ‘amuse ourselves to death’, as Neil Postman put it.

Personally speaking, what has affected me most is the hyperreal bubble formed by social media that has enabled us to construct virtual identities visible to everyone, which therefore calls for projecting only the best parts of ourselves. Even though we keep telling ourselves that social comparison is counterproductive, we still tend to subconsciously mistake the representation of people’s lives online for their reality. Picture-perfect moments of joy or transient milestones of success are passed on as a state of being. Everyone seems to be on the fast track in life, yet your life in particular seems to drag on in slow motion or even be moving backwards. Everyone seems to be going places, but you don’t even know what your next step will be. The more you see, the more you react, the more you internalize, the more you eventually believe it. That’s exactly how advertising works; through continuous exposure and spaced repetition. What is being advertised then? That the current state of our lives is not enough. And what has that led to? FOMO —the fear of missing out— has become an insidious internet-borne pandemic we all know and experience, but no one has effectively been cured from. As long as you are continually exposed to something you do not have or have not experienced, it will feel like you’re missing out on it. The only decisive resolution is often to disengage entirely by removing access altogether: unfollowing, detoxing, deactivating or even deleting one’s online presence.

“Modernity has not healed our pain, it has only dried our tears.”

Timothy Winter

What will become of us and how will the state of the world unfold in the coming age of hypermodernity? I’ll leave that to the real theorists, but to me it looks like a downward-spiraling dynamic between cause and effect: the ever-changing dialectic between man and his favourite tool: technology. And we are all in for the ride.

Part 2: The Outcome

I wish I was being delusional about all of this, but philosophers, theorists and thinkers have been foreseeing the consequences for decades now. I have said nothing new and there is no way to say it lightly. You may not see the gravity of these tectonic shifts happening now in society or take these matters seriously upon yourself, but what I need to point out here is that everything I have mentioned above took merely a few decades in the whole lifespan of mankind to unravel. That is unprecedented in the history of time.

Essentially, we are experiencing an accelerating state of perpetual hyper-change. We are drowning in an endless river of change and there are no rafts in sight to keep us anchored or rescue us out. What will become of us in the next decade? The future is becoming increasingly harder to predict because the world is becoming exponentially complex and fragile. The world as we know it today may very well be digitally terraformed by the end of the new decade. And it has already begun. 2020 is the prime example; everything we knew and experienced in life changed in less than a single year due to the global pandemic. And all of our lives were thrown on the line. All of us.

But what concerns me most is not us millennials or the older generations who have experienced what life was like before the new millennium. We can tell the difference. My biggest concern is for the generations to come, who will be practically raised by technology and forced to live with hyper-change; this will be the only way of life they will come to know as long as the arrow of time marches forward.

“Change is the only permanence, and uncertainty the only certainty. A hundred years ago ‘to be modern’ meant to chase ‘the final state of perfection’ —now it means an infinity of improvement, with no ‘final state’ in sight and none desired.”

Zygmunt Bauman, Liquid Modernity

Living in a state of accelerating hyper-change has rendered our souls spiraling in discontentment, our emotions numb, our bodies in constant fatigue and our minds in a state of chronic distraction, leading to what I believe to be an unsurprising outcome the more I think of it: the detriment of our collective human psyche, evident in the rise of mental health issues; now seemingly a natural conclusion and direct response to the hypermodern features of our current social reality.

Hypermodern life is in and of itself anxiety-inducing and stress-provoking. Burnout is real, not an illusion or a symptom limited only to the ‘lazy-minded’. Depression is real, not a symptom limited to those who survived a certain ‘trauma’. Anxiety is real, not a condition limited only to those who think ‘too much’. Addiction is real and comes in various forms and degrees, not a condition limited to those who struggle with ‘dire’ life circumstances. So many of us are struggling on the inside and yet have no clue as to why; we think it’s on us. We think it is our individual fault or personal problem; we believe we are solely to blame or judge for what we find ourselves in. However, these phenomena are not ‘disorders’ that arbitrarily arose from vacuum without origin, but by-products slowly becoming manifest due to living in this era of history. These mental health struggles are symptoms of a collective psyche gradually being eroded by hypermodernity.

A life-like statue of a monk rests amidst a overcrowded local gift shop, captured in Sharm El-Sheikh, Egypt, 2019

When was the last time you spent the whole day doing something you value in a care-free manner with no interruptions, worry or stress; like a trip to your favourite place, the library or the park or in nature? When was the last time you spent quality time without your TV, laptop, phone, tablet or smart watch? When was the last time you felt that you have absolutely nowhere else to be or nothing else to do other than be in the here and now? When was the last time you were able to clear your mind amidst all the chaos and find peace in the present moment?

We are rushing through life and we cannot afford to stop. There seems to be no escape from hyper-change without making some necessary trade-offs. The price to pay is represented in the photo of the monk above —depicting a startling resemblance to hypermodern life; a hyper-aged man whose only refuge from the sea of irrelevance is to keep his eyes closed; to separate the signal from the noise; to look in the opposite direction deep within himself; to remember what truly matters in life; to reconnect with his inner essence and then to eventually return to living his life, but this time from the inside out.

If you don’t relate to anything I’ve said above, then you’re either incredibly lucky, or perhaps it might be time to take a deeper look at your current state of life; both ways, I’m sorry to have disturbed you. Carry on, everything is awesome!

Lego Dominates at the Box Office—Again
(Those who know Lego Movie‘s song will relate)

But if you can relate, then you are not alone. It’s not you or me. It’s so much bigger than that. The signs are everywhere for those who have the eyes to see them. But most of us will either wake up to the warning when it is too late, or want to stay asleep because of the unbearable weight of knowing then living once having known.

Part 3: The Silver Lining

After all that has been said, it is easy to surrender to an entropic vision of the future that is inevitably decaying from order to chaos. But that is not why I have written all of this. This attempt of a social commentary should not be mistaken for merely a cry of despair, but more so a wake up call. In spite of the status quo, I refuse to fall prey to helpless victim mentality; I refuse to believe that there is nothing that can possibly be done. And whenever I find myself slipping into those dark moments, I often call to mind a tantalizing thought that came to me in an instance of hope and clarity:

What future awaits us all if we all surrender to the current state of affairs? What can we still do while acknowledging perpetual bitter social reality as a given and adopting resistance as the only way forward?

Waiting around for any form of collective consciousness and action seems too far fetched on the short-term. We can’t simply wait for the world to change its ways; it won’t, but we can. On the micro-scale, each and every one of us has the power and means to change things around us. And what we can change right this second is within our circles of influence and control. We can realize the extent of the role technology has played in our hypermodern lives and become more conscious of our relationship with it; we can learn to break bad habits and make room for healthier ones; we can realize that the essential human condition cannot be and will never be ‘modernized’; we can stop pretending that technology is the answer to all of humanity’s problems; we can find more mindful ways to live in this hypermodern age; we can dare to live our lives otherwise as a means of resistance against the current state of affairs.

Despite all the consequences and challenges we face, I’m not against technology, the Internet or social networks. I acknowledge the duality of scientific progress and wouldn’t want to reverse how far humanity has come. Technology isn’t going anywhere and there’s no turning back. I just wish someone would have told me to take heed of the collateral damage of hypermodern life and what it does to our psyche. For those of us whose lives were touched by hypermodernity, we have reached an altered state of being that none of us can sugarcoat or deny any longer. There was a price to pay after all, there always is.

And so, realizing everything I have mentioned above inevitably led me to reach a state of existential crisis (no surprise there); a wake up call to no longer live one’s life by default, but by design (hence the slogan of my blog). Eventually it prompted me to embark on a journey of self-awareness to examine my own current state of life; to realize that I am an old soul living in a hypermodern body; to remember that I am a human being not human doing, first and foremost, above all labels, roles and definitions; to own the fact that I was born to create, not merely to consume; to think critically about my individual role and impact in society; to recognize all the external forces at play that are influencing my being and doing; to rebel against all the distractions designed to numb me and to face my struggles head on instead; to reclaim my sense of autonomy and proactively resist whatever is harming my spirit; to rise above false consciousness or what I’ve been fed to believe about society and my place in it; to transcend the perpetual flux of trends, news or feeds and stay focused on what truly matters; to slow down, step off the treadmill of hypermodern life and simply enjoy being every once in a while; to finally believe that I am enough in a society that keeps convincing me otherwise; to define my own terms of success that go beyond material fortune, achievement, power or fame; to realign myself to the values I held dear but could not live up to; to make time for all the things in life I will wholeheartedly regret not doing; to embrace my inner essence in a world that tries to deny it; to tame my raging ego in a world that tries to free it; to find true contentment in the here and now, not tomorrow or elsewhere; to re-establish my ultimate priorities as non-negotiable no matter what life throws at me; to fully embrace the duality of the human condition; to learn to discern what is false from what is real; to live in accord with my truth, not whatever is convenient; to come to terms with the unique singularity of life that many of us have taken for granted and the reality of death that many of us have chosen to forget; to rediscover what it means to be truly human in this day and age; and to finally step out of the matrix.

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Along this quest, which has been far from linear or direct, I have slowly arrived at certain notions and have come to adopt certain practices and perspectives in order to deal with the hypermodern effects I encounter in everyday life. These friendly suggestions are purely out of my own limited experience; kindly take what you wish and leave the rest be. They may at first sound counter-intuitive or seem irrelevant to what I have discussed above, but please stay with me till the end.

1. Examining one’s ‘status quo’

A good place to start in order to awaken from hypermodern life might be to examine one’s current state of life, by auditing one’s status quo in two intertwined dimensions: worldview (the inner life) and lifestyle (the outer life). This self-analysis is far from easy or painless; it takes courage to be completely vulnerable and radically honest, even with yourself. But knowing exactly where you are now is the first step to going where you want to go next. They call this process a ‘life audit’.

A. Examining one’s worldview and inner life

Your worldview is the set of beliefs you have about everything in life; it is how you see the world. It is partly inherited and partly acquired. Thus it makes sense to pause for a while and examine the lens with which we have come to see ourselves and our reality.

Because the thing is, as humans, whether we like it or not, we cannot simply live without meaning. We bestow meaning onto reality, in order to be able to live it. Each and every one of us, has found or is in search of subjective answers —whether consciously or subconsciously— to the age-old questions: What am I? Why am I here? Where did I come from? Where will I go?… Why is it important to define what we believe, you ask? Because what we believe comes to shape our reality. It’s that simple.

Our task then is to turn inwards, to look deep inside ourselves, to use our precious intellect and dive into the ocean of our subconscious; to bring forth the hidden universe within; to utter the unspoken truth about ourselves in all its pain and glory; to shed some light on the dark corners that exist within us; to ask ourselves the hard questions and slowly reveal the answers that have already been unfolding in our unconscious all along:

  • What are you? What defines you?
  • What do you believe in?
  • Where did you come from?
  • Why are you here?
  • Where are you going?
  • What is your ultimate end in life?
  • What do you know about your self?
  • What remains unknown about your self?
  • What do you want to change about your self?
  • Who do you want to become, and why?
  • How did your current state of life come to be?
  • Why do you think and act the way you do?
  • What drives you to become what you seek?
  • What is stopping you from what you seek?
  • Who in the world do you most identify with, and why?
  • Where do you belong in the world?
  • How may have your environment shaped you?
  • To what extent does your environment reflect you?
  • What values do you live by? And want to live by?
  • What is stopping you from living by them?
  • What do you know about the world, and beyond?
  • What remains unknown to you about the world?
  • What do you know about reality?
  • What is worthy to you of being and doing in life?

Your attempts to answer these exploratory questions are certainly not meant to be final, definitive, conclusive or solution-oriented; I don’t think they can ever be. They are more like prompts and responses that are open-ended in their nature; meant only to provoke, manifest and articulate whatever it is that already resides within you. And they will undoubtedly evolve in time as you change, grow and become. But let these be your answers, for now. This is how you see the world, for now.

Please be sure to take your time; don’t rush your thought process. Allow yourself to ponder and dwell in the questions, then freely navigate your way through the answers. Your responses will slowly but surely reveal themselves in time; the words will come when you don’t expect them. Think not about what must or should be, but what and where you are now; for that is exactly where you must begin.

B. Examining one’s lifestyle and outer life

Your lifestyle is the set of behaviours you enact in reality; it is how you live in the world. It is based more or less upon what you believe about yourself and how you grew from your surrounding. And much like your worldview, it is a result of both nature and nurture.

The goal here is to realize and reveal the gap between what we believe and how we behave; then slowly begin to realign between what we practice with what we aspire to live by.

One’s way of life encompasses a multitude of dimensions of course, but I have mainly focused on 5 of them to address here. Each dimension involves 3 relevant areas that describe it:

1. Soul— Faith, Purpose, Character
2. Self— Personality, Relationships, Impact
3. Mind— Mindset, Intellect, Occupation
4. Body — Health, Nutrition, Fitness
5. Space— Finance, Habitat, Traveling

The categorization above is not based on any given framework, but simply my own efforts to attempt to live holistically and include all the areas that matter to me at this current stage in my life. Feel free to modify, rearrange, add or remove areas to suit how you envision yours.

Once you’ve defined the dimensions and areas you want to assess, take some time to respond to these prompts for each area:

  • What is my current state in this area?
  • How content am I with it, and why?
  • What does my desired state look like?
  • Why do I want to reach this desired state?
  • What challenges am I facing to reach my desired state?
  • What can I do starting today to move forward?
  • Who can I reach out to for support in this area?
  • How can I support others around me in this area?

Then what, you ask? Well, it depends. If you’re the kind of person who is more outcome-oriented and prefers radical change via direct applied pressure, then consciously defining goals and creating action plans to start tackling your most important areas in life now might be the way to go. But if you’re the kind of person who is more process-oriented and prefers incremental change via indirect gentle persuasion, then a more suitable approach would actually be letting your subconscious mind do the work and slowly leaning into playful experimentation with the challenges you are facing in your areas of focus.

No matter which strategy you follow, I hope you have the courage to acknowledge, accept and embrace exactly where you are now, and eventually move beyond all the fear, frustration and judgement. There is a reason for your being and I am certain that life will surprise you if you just give it time; trust me on this. After all, it takes a lifetime to build a life worth living.

2. Minding one’s ‘headspace’

While self-awareness is the key to one’s becoming (on the long-term), mindfulness is the key to one’s being (on the short-term). And not only being aware of one’s emotions, but also one’s thoughts, which they call headspace. What keeps occupying space in that wonderful mind of yours? What fills the hours of that precious time of yours? What keeps you up late at night? Where do you wander off to often? What do you tend to fixate on? What do you keep worrying about? Is it helpful in any way, or is it ultimately harmful to your well-being?

Just like decluttering one’s physical space and adopting minimalism as an approach to living, it’s equally important to practice mindfulness and attempt to declutter one’s headspace from any distractions that take unnecessary space from the things that truly matter or eventually harm one’s mental well-being.

I’m certainly not an expert on mindfulness, but what I’ve learned is that being mindful of one’s thoughts starts with being mindful of one’s sensory inputs. What are you continually exposed to? What do you keep hearing, seeing, watching or listening to? How is it affecting your headspace and overall sense of well-being? Given the state of hyper-exposure we find ourselves in, the art of curating one’s exposure has become an essential skill for anyone living in the age of the Internet.

An anatomy of Batman’s headspace. Source

Becoming more intentional about what you mentally consume instead of ingesting anything that crosses your path will undoubtedly elevate the quality of your thought in time and eventually the quality of your life. If ever you notice yourself slipping into or out of a mode of consumption, gently prompt yourself, ‘What do I really need right now? What am I looking for? What do I truly seek? What am I chasing? What am I avoiding? What would Batman do? ;)’…

3. Rediscovering lost ‘virtues’

It’s no secret that the lives of our grandparents who walked this earth merely 50 years seems to have been radically different from the reality we live in today. We may have gained plenty, but we have lost just as much. In our hypermodern age, it’s not just species that are becoming extinct, some virtues and values are disappearing with every future generation to come too. Among those I have noticed lacking in myself and have since tried to cultivate are presence, patience, contentment and vulnerability.

Given the overall sense of desensitization we suffer as a coping mechanism in order to deal with the excess of hypermodernity; I will go as far as to claim that we are slowly losing our ability to feel deeply. We no longer let ourselves feel or even think deeply. We no longer remain open to vulnerability. We no longer choose to be vulnerable because it’s inconvenient. We are no longer able to dwell in our own state of being, however it may be. We are no longer able to experience the entire spectrum of human emotion. Because everything in our lives is happening too fast around us, it is always so much more than we can ever process. The pace of hypermodern life demands that we quickly ‘get over’ things simply because there are too many other things waiting in line to be gotten over. We keep encountering this traffic everywhere: in our hearts, minds and lives, not just in our cities.

This has led to a state of chronic distraction and therefore a lack of presence. As a child of this generation, it took me quite a while to understand and come to experience what they call presence. I didn’t even know what it felt like. After all, how could one find it if he is living in an endless loop that alternates between a mode of labour and consumption? How could one reach it if he is continuously bombarded with stimuli that interfere with his state of being? How can one stay in the moment if he is hyper-exposed to a dozen other distractions competing for his attention at the same time? How can one keep calm amidst the demanding stress and anxiety of everyday life? How can one simply enjoy being in the present if he is never truly content with it, always looking towards the future or past?

Another virtue we seem to be losing is patience. The instantaneity of the hypermodern world has rendered our capacity for struggle, discomfort and boredom to a minimum. Yet they remain aspects of human life that cannot be eliminated. We cannot outrun time; we cannot rush growth; we cannot accelerate maturity; we cannot conquer suffering; we cannot defeat entropy. There is no escape from the human condition, and yet we’ve lost the one virtue that enabled us to endure it. We used to be able to welcome the fruits of every season with open arms. Now we cannot help but hurry through every stage in life, wishing for it to pass, longing for what is yet to come, chasing the next opportunity, until one day we reach the finish line only to discover the hidden but real treasure was in savoring the experience of it all.

Without coming to terms with the present, or being patient enough for the future to arrive, it is inevitable for one to fall into a state of discontentment. It is difficult to settle for less, knowing that you can always have more. It is challenging to be happy with enough, knowing that everyone else is aiming much higher. It is hard to be content with the present, knowing that the future may hold all that you desire. But life will teach you sooner or later, that you are exactly where you need to be; here and now. The sooner you embrace it, the sooner you uncover the wisdom hidden in it, the sooner you reach a state of contentment and realize that you never really needed anything outside of you to do so; the sooner you discover that what you were seeking out there was inside you all along.

4. Finding ‘beauty’ in everyday life

The elder generations keep saying that the beauty of life lies in the simplest of things, but I never really noticed; I was too busy. I hadn’t cultivated the eyes to see it yet. But in time, I came to discover and cherish those small but beautiful moments, however simple they may seem: observing scenes in nature, tasting delicious food, witnessing acts of kindness, reconnecting with an old friend, encountering small but unplanned surprises, stumbling upon wonderful coincidences, having rare but deep conversations, enjoying a sunset, playing with children and spending time freely with loved ones; all of which miraculously invited a sense of warmth into one’s being, provided a momentary escape from life’s troubles and opened the door into a timeless state of peaceful presence, gratitude and joy.

And where else can beauty be found other than in nature itself? What more do we need besides 24/7 free access to Divine beauty on display? We just need to make time and expose ourselves to it. Whenever I can, I find myself sitting in silence during the day, tuning into the music already playing outside: the clouds slowly traveling through space, the wind gently caressing the dancing leaves and the birds cheerfully chirping amidst the trees. Or during the night, when the world has fallen into a state of peaceful silence, I find myself pondering on the constellations in the sky, gazing for hours at the timeless full moon, leaning in to the silent wisdom in the air, all while contemplating on the totality of life and existence.

It is quite tragic that we have lost our connection with nature, once considered our primordial source of therapy. Nature has become yet another product or experience to consume, not to heal with. With the rise of entertainment as an artificial source of recreation now competing for one’s time and attention, the dwindling presence of nature in everyday life is something younger generations will slowly come to notice and struggle to reclaim.

This calls for fine-tuning our receptivity to everyday moments of beauty in all its forms as a means of resistance against all the ugliness we see in the world. There is no ugliness in nature; only in our selves. Let this be a gentle reminder to myself and others to start learning how to see the spectrum of beauty in the world; to become open to enjoy the small things, which are no less significant than the grand endeavors we seek in life. Both call for celebration; both contribute to living a whole-hearted life. And once we begin to open our hearts to the beauty outside, it will only be a matter of time that it touches everything there is on the inside.

5. Returning to one’s ‘essence’

No one ever mentions this, as if we’ve forgotten the language we used to address it with, so it never emerges into thought. We no longer know the words, so we no longer conjure the concept. It has become the most elusive thing, almost illusive, despite being the most important thing of all. And yet, we forget that the worthiest things in life will always remain hidden, unseen, invisible and independent of any form.

What I am referring to is one’s essence; the core of one’s being; that which makes him undeniably unique; that which distinguishes him as the quintessence of the known universe. It is where the heart, soul and spirit coalesce together to forge something singular called ‘You’. But we hardly talk about that anymore; we hardly think about that anymore.

Instead, we are drowning helplessly in the material; believing merely in the physical; chasing solely what is immediate; drawn purely to sensory experiences; captivated by our own desires and pleasures; preoccupied with our own bodies; controlled by our own possessions; limited by our own rationality; shackled by our own senses; seeing only the surface of things; mesmerized by the plethora of worldly spectacles; seduced by all the power, money and fame; obsessed primarily with worldly gain; zealously driven by only what can be quantified and measured; restlessly consumed and chronically distracted by all the endless forms on display.

But deep down, you know you were meant for more. You just need to remember… That you are the intersection of the infinite and finite. You are the beating heart of this cosmos. You are the universe embodied, yet you are your own universe. You are in this world, yet you are not of this world. You house something within you that transcends all space and time; something eternal. You have something inside you that even entropy cannot defeat; something imperishable. You are among the most precious creatures to have ever walked this earth; something irreplaceable. But like everything else manifest in divine creation, it is not in vain; it is not without purpose. In this world of endless forms, you only have access to one essence; yours. Don’t lose sight of it.

I hope that some day, you and I are able to realize and rise up to our true worth. I hope that at the end of the day, we discover new ways to navigate hypermodern life without losing touch with our essence as human beings. I hope we find the courage to live by our essence, beyond all forms, because one day it will be all that remains of us, and it is how we all once began. I part you with an all-time favourite quote of mine, hidden amongst the many jewels found in Elif Shafak’s The Forty Rules of Love:

“Just be sure to make every journey, a journey within.”

Time to Reflect

✦ What’s your personal experience with hypermodernity?
✦ Which excess has the biggest impact on your life?
✦ How can we counter their impact on everyday life?

Feel free to share your thoughts in the comments 👇🏼

If you’ve read this far, thank you for your time!
You’re a hero by hypermodern standards :)

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