Social media users – beware, the psychiatrist is watching you

Is Internet Use Disorder a 21st century mental illness?

GUEST POST : Helen Durham is a part-time undergraduate of the University of Nottingham’s BA in Creative and Professional Writing, trying to learn Mindfulness to alleviate the stress of assignment deadlines piling up

The fifth edition of The Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-5), used across the globe by many psychiatrists, is due out in May 2013. It is believed to include ‘Internet Use Disorder’ as a condition of addiction and social disengagement that merits further consideration. The consideration will be whether such a disorder should be included as a diagnosable condition in the next update of DSM-5.
Diagnosable conditions have implications for health and social care provision, health and social care insurance, and employability.

Back in 2008, an editorial in the American Journal of Psychiatry made a case for the inclusion of Internet Addiction:

Internet addiction appears to be a common disorder that merits inclusion in DSM-V. Conceptually, the diagnosis is a compulsive-impulsive spectrum disorder that involves online and/or offline computer usage and consists of at least three subtypes: excessive gaming, sexual preoccupations, and e-mail/text messaging. All of the variants share the following four components: 1) excessive use, often associated with a loss of sense of time or a neglect of basic drives, 2) withdrawal, including feelings of anger, tension, and/or depression when the computer is inaccessible, 3) tolerance, including the need for better computer equipment, more software, or more hours of use, and 4) negative repercussions, including arguments, lying, poor achievement, social isolation, and fatigue.

Should we be worried about our internet usage health?

I’ve compared aspects of my life now, in this social media age, with life in the years before it became a significant part of my life. What do I do more or less of because of the time spent using social media?

Reading novels – less
Contact with acquaintances – more, but virtual
Contact with close friends – different, less frequently face to face
Chatting on the phone – much less due to texts and emails (I miss a good natter)
Dropping into people’s homes without prior arrangement – far less frequently, it’s almost becoming unimaginable
Writing words – more
Sitting – more, at the computer, with an iPad, phones etc
Watching TV – less, using social media as an alternative distraction or recreational activity
Playing a musical instrument – less
Gardening – less
Eating – more
Alcohol consumption – no change
Ability to be still and reflective – less
Sleep – often shorter, brain more active later in the evening from computer use

It seems I have become something of an addict in terms of the components of time spent using social media and the emotions that stirs or alters.

Is abstinence viable or necessary?

Unlike alcohol, social media, or at least time at the computer and aspects of the internet, are not something 21st century users can abstain from. In the UK the government is pushing citizens to it, right down to people who may be too poor to own a computer or too illiterate to use it. It will become a tool of exclusion if we’re not careful.

Perhaps it’s a question of balance

What might save us from this addiction and from being diagnosed with a mental illness?

The simple answer is ‘ourselves’. We are in control of the off button. But life is never that simple. So I’d like to suggest an alternative: Mindfulness.

During February 2013 the Wisdom 2.0 conference – think Silicon Valley on retreat rather than doing business – took place in San Francisco. Jon Kabat-Zinn , a leading exponent of mindfulness, said “We’re in the information age… …it’s a huge stretch for us to understand how we’re going to deal with all this information that is so overwhelming us that we are perpetually self-distracting, and instead find the threads of connectivity.”

Google has been aware of such issues for some years. Google’s ‘Jolly Good Fellow’ Chade-Meng Tan (Meng), whose job description is, “Enlighten minds, open hearts, create world peace” invited Kabat-Zinn to speak to google employees in 2007, and google’s VP spoke in the opening discussion of Wisdom 2.0 in 2010
There’s a common phrase in mindfulness about ‘showing up in our own lives’, being present in ourselves and to ourselves in the present moment. Wisdom 2.0 considered “How can we live with greater presence, meaning, and mindfulness in the technology age?”

Brain changes
The constantly expectant state that comes with a constantly connected digital life raises the vigilant brain stress hormones, which are known to have an impact on physical as well as mental wellbeing. Equally mindfulness has been shown to profoundly alter, heal and nourish the brain – it enables us to dwell in ourselves and not in a state of being elsewhere with all the stresses that brings. It improves attention, sleep, relationships, mood and productivity – what’s not to like?

Jon Kabat-Zinn, writer of the foreword in Mindfulness: the practice of finding peace in a frantic world, said “We’re rediscovering something deep within ourselves that is timeless, and it is potentially profoundly healing and transformative, and globally so. So I see this as maybe the manifestation already of the early phases of what I would call a global renaissance of awakening, of true wisdom.”
That seems quite a claim. True? False? Possible? Impossible?

Try it for yourself. There are youtube videos and podcasts aplenty by Jon Kabat-Zinn, and by Mark Williams, co-author of Mindfulness: the practice of finding peace in a frantic world. Kabat-Zinn has written excellent books, too.

So join me, get yourself a book, a podcast or an audiobook, step away from the computer for a short while and have yourself a mindful time. It’s already paying dividends for me.

How the ‘Poetry Engine’ gives museum visits a whole new meaning

GUEST POST : Elaine is a Doctoral student in Education and also nearing the end of her BA in Creative and Professional Writing at the University of Nottingham. She runs Strange Alliances, a blog exploring different ways of creating narratives through different forms of media and can be found on Twitter @EMAldred.

Next time you go to a museum, don’t go on your own. Bring a few people interested in writing, then spread out to find objects that interest each of you. But whatever you do, don’t look at the labels.
Then start up what poet Mark Goodwin refers to as a ‘Poetry Engine’ exercise. Take no more than three minutes to write the first things that come into your head, while you’re looking at your chosen item. Write a poem based on these words. Get back together for an intense brainstorming session to combine at least two poems. Then perform them as a shared enterprise, spread out amongst an audience seated about the museum collection.

The result is engrossing and startling, when themes such as war and rural idyll are juxtaposed. As the words emerge and work with each other there is a palpable sense of disquiet, particularly as the objects of inspiration (a gas mask and a seed spreader) reside on a table by your shoulder.
That’s what happened last night at the bijoux Kegworth Museum, as the audience seated themselves down the length of the upstairs room amongst a variety of themed areas ranging from agriculture, to a Victorian lady’s boudoir, an old schoolroom and war memorabilia.

The ‘poetry experience’ (Mark’s definition of the event) was the culmination of three, weekly sessions of the ‘Box of Props’ intensive creative experience run by Mark and his partner Nikki Clayton, who has a Doctorate in Museum studies and has been an open museum projects officer.
In the first week, the group used the museum as inspiration to create poetry. Week two was spent organising and combining the poetry, ready for the performance in week three.

The performers experience had been one of intense activity, but no one was complaining and were, in fact, demanding more of the same. The audience, tucked in amongst the objects that had inspired the poetry, felt the same way.

However, what emerged from the exercise was more than the creation of poetry. One of the curators voiced her desire to re-label the collection, because of the insights she had gained through her participation in the project. It was clear she now saw many of the objects in a completely different way. What had once been an inanimate object of interest, had now acquired a personality and unique narrative.

This outcome is particularly interesting, given Nikki and Mark’s combined passion for using museum collections to inspire the development of language through creativity and poetry. It’s something they know a great deal about having contributed a chapter on the subject in The Thing about Museums. Objects and Experience, Representation and Contestation an edited book published by, Routledge.

The ‘Poetry Engine’ technique also appears to present creative opportunities to those who may have a desire to express themselves through writing, but are held back by fear of appearing linguistically inadequate. This opens up numerous creative opportunities in many fields of education.

The process is certainly infectious. My next museum visit will be spent ignoring the labels and discovering what complex narratives I can draw out of something that catches my eye.

It is a truth universally acknowledged that every writer wants to be famous

In this ever-increasing self-publishing explosion, how can you get yourself noticed?

GUEST POST : Angela Foxwood is a budding author, singer, poet, part time student at University of Nottingham and mum of one.

It is a truth universally acknowledged that every writer wants the world to know how brilliant they are. This used to involve people, paper and print. Now writing can be broadcast in cyberspace by pressing a button. But just how do you get to be read by the digital masses, when you are just one in the millions of others out there?

Despite my resistance to the possibility that my beloved books may soon become relics of a tree-destroying time, even I have to concede the growth of the technological world. The fact that I am tapping this article into a computer, rather than reaching for a pen, is proof of that. That I have signed up for a module entitled: ‘Writing for the Web’ is further evidence of my reluctant acceptance. So, having admitted that this digital malarkey is not going to fade into obscurity I have to ask, ‘So exactly how can I turn this new media to my advantage?’

My first toe was dipped into the water that is Twitter. Within a few minutes of trial and error I was ploughing my way through Stephen Fry’s copious Tweets (how does he find the time?) and various other celebrities whom I had managed to find through the wonderful search button. Believing that these famous people actually gave a damn about me personally added to my short-lived illusion. If I could talk to someone who sounded pleasant in electronic form that may also be able to tell the world about me, how awesome would that be? Awesome yes. Likely, no. I began to realize, after ‘replying’ to some of these Tweets, that nobody famous was actually going to reply to me. The final nail was when I checked out the number of followers that these celebrities have, in some cases six figure numbers. Not much of a chance that my little comment would even be seen.

Next, Facebook. This prooved to be much more fun. Now I can have ‘friends’ whom I actually know. In my real world. And what is even better, they talk to me. And they talk to their friends. And their friends talk to their friends. Hooray- it’s like a spreading virus of the most pleasant kind. And this, I believe, is a more likely way to get my name in lights. My lovely friends are starting to ‘share’ some of my Facebook ‘Posts’ too.

So, where am I at now? Right here-blogging. This is my latest toe in cyber-water. To date I have only composed a few entries, and I’m hoping that everybody who ‘lands’ on this page will tell all of their friends about me. And their friends…and so forth. It may take a while though, so in the meantime I am looking up other sites, that I can become part of. New cyber ‘communities’. People out there who share my interests, which of course are mostly centred around writing. But those people are also trying to get their names out there, exactly the same as me. Which is when they become the masses that I am competing against.
My question is, I suppose, is it better to go down the traditional route, find an agent (tricky in itself), get a publisher. wait a year until your book is produced, if you are very lucky, and then, if you are even more lucky, get an advance. But you still may end up gathering the wonderful dust I spoke of in my last post. Or, do I keep plugging away at this computer world, joining every community I can think of, subscribing to every site that has a competition I can enter (so far, no prizes) and hoping that one day, somebody out there may just feel that I’m worth the risk.

Can’t print and digital media all just get along?

The debate over ebooks and their printed ancestors rages on. I see no reason for them to be at war with each other.

GUEST POST : Emily Cooper (rusticwriter) is a freelance writer, typesetter and editor. She is a soon-to-be-graduate of ‘Creative and Professional Writing’ at Nottingham University and enjoys capturing the strangely beautiful and beautifully strange with her words. Want to know more?

Magazines on the other hand, are having to decide how their articles and news reaches their audience. My articles have been published both on- and offline, I’ve seen the differences.

Where I Write

I write for LeftLion – Nottingham’s free print magazine – which publishes its articles on paper and online, and HeartofGlass magazine – a purely online publication. Both are free. Copies of LeftLion are delivered throughout Nottingham for anyone to pick up. I’m not sure how much HeartofGlass pays for its site hosting, or there is any cost – but they certainly don’t charge their readers anything.

Despite LeftLion being the longer-running of the two, I don’t feel as connected to them. I only write on a casual basis. Either I pitch an article to them, or pick from an email that is sent to all contributors. Thanks to LeftLion, I have been able to interview David Almond (author of Skellig) and Peter V Brett, an American fantasy novelist. I am a ‘fan’ of both, and talking to them was a dream come true.

I do not have a regular submission requirement for LeftLion, but am required to write an article fortnightly for HeartofGlass. For this reason I define myself as a columnist for HeartofGlass, but only a contributor for LeftLion. This regular deadline for HeartofGlass means I am more likely to send my pitches and ideas to them – which is okay. LeftLion is regional, and I would not send them the same stories.

The Two Mediums
If I know my article will be print or online, the way I write changes. Marshall McLuhan famously said ‘the medium is the message’, meaning that the form a message is given in (TV, Radio, speech, etc.) affects the message itself. Print articles can only be as long as there is space on the page, but when writing for the web I can have all the space I want… right? Not so. A reader can only process so much information. Just because I can post something of 2,000 words does not mean anyone will want to read it, nor is it an excuse to ramble.

Without the columns of print magazines, it is a good idea to cut articles into ‘chunks’ with headings. Not only does this help the reader, it helps to keep your article coherent and flowing from one topic to the next. Sub-headlines also change – not significantly, but it’s there. Not only do they have to explain what the article is about, but due to the nature of websites, it can help to use keywords. This serves several purposes. One, to help your readers to find your article. Two, readers tend to scan, then read. A clever, witty title might not make it clear what your article is about – time for a subheading.

Blogs, Articles and Editorials…
… aren’t exactly the same, and I admit, it took me several pokes from an editor for me to fully understand. Each has a different purpose:

A blog article contains opinions and information, and is updated on a regular basis.
An article may contain news, debate or instructions on ‘how to’ do something.
An editorial reflects the writer’s opinion on a topic. While all three of these are non-fiction, editorials often reflect the beliefs of the publication, (and can be more biased than blogs.)

I struggled with the informal tone of my articles, wanting to present my words in a chatty way. This wasn’t entirely successful, and is something I’m still working on. If you write a blog, it is excellent practise for article-writing. Just make sure to look for the differences.

Thanks to the digital age, a writer needn’t be tied to a telephone. I communicate with editors through email. I might peek at what they have to say on twitter occasionally, or join in a discussion on the private HeartofGlass forum… but essentially, writers need plenty of ways for editors to contact them, and works even better for writers who check these communication channels often.

Waiting for a Copy
Once I’ve submitted an article, I plough on with other work, but this doesn’t stop me itching to know when my article will be printed or published online. If I published my writing on my blog, they would be online in an instant, and I would know exactly how many people were reading it, directing them through my website. But then again, my work would not have been edited (which makes all the difference between self-publishing and not), nor would it reach the readers of that magazine.

Whether online or not, a writer still needs to wait for the publication date, and hope that the editor lets you know when and where you can find it. LeftLion is sent all over Nottingham, and as I’m not entirely sure where it is delivered, I tend to go to a coffee shop each month and hope that there are still some issues left. With HeartofGlass, the editor-in-chief puts a link to each article up on facebook as soon as it has been published. Social media snaps it up straight away, and there’s a short boom of hits and visits to your stories.

To Print, or not to Print
I love the rush of seeing my name in print, but at the risk of sounding like a sell-out, I’ll happily sacrifice that for being printed online. Why? Because my words will circulate so much further thanks to social messaging (facebook, twitter etc.) I’m currently studying at University, and being published online means I can send friends and family a link, and post it on my blog. I get more readers, the magazines get more traffic and everyone is happy. I sometimes miss the smell of newspaper ink, the feel of paper in my hands, but thanks to LeftLion – I can have both. I’m not sure which is more effective, as LeftLion is also online. So I’ll watch, I’ll wait, and try to keep my head above the water in this industry which doesn’t dare to predict what it will become in five, ten, or twenty years time.

Are you wasting your time on social media?

The onslaught of online information is endless. Is the time thirsty sponge of social media just wasting your time?

GUEST POST : Sadie Greening is an aspiring crime author, creative writing student and mother – follow her on Twitter @octaviagrey

If it is then you are not alone. I’m new to the social media side of the Internet. I’ve had a Facebook profile for a few years now but then again, so has my dad. I dabbled a bit with updating my status and checking in with friends I haven’t heard about since school, but Twitter, Kickstarter, Pinterest? It was like people were speaking Swahili when they talked of tweets, ‘following’ people (I heard ‘stalking’) and crowd funding.

It almost became a pride thing for me to say, “Nah, not my bag that,” whenever people spoke of social media. Well, they do say pride comes before a fall. And fall I did because as I set off on my path to achieve literary fulfilment with a writing career, I realised my error. These media platforms are an integral part of the networking process for a new writer. They are the way people communicate in this field. I need them.

I set up a WordPress site for my blog. Well, okay, I got a friend who’s a real techy genius to set it up for me, but I populated it! It looks great and you can check it out at I started to blog. The previously forsaken Twitter account was activated and I set up not just a Facebook profile but a Facebook page. With a huge pat on my own back I congratulated myself in having nailed it.

It wasn’t long before I grasped the sheer weight of effort necessary to make these platforms work and almost gave up. In the online ether people don’t look for you – you have to go out and get them. And that requires time. Lots of time. Time to research the blogs that relate to your area of interest, find them, read them, comment on them, stalk, sorry follow, the writers themselves, tweet them and build a rapport. You need to invite them to come to your blog as a guest post, you return the favour, you book review everything you can; tread the fine line between saying what you mean and not alienating someone you might either meet, or worse, come to rely on later down the line. The list is endless.

This activity sucks you in. You need to do it so you do, to the expense of, in my case, university assignments, housework, cooking, washing and on some days, sleep. Keeping a day job whilst being a full time student means life is full on as it is. Add in the mix the black hole of social media surfing and the only thing that can give is sleep.

One recent blog post I uploaded was on the very subject of how people find the time to blog when they’re working too. One writer commented on the blog and her opinion of how people juggle both sides of the coin was:

‘Basically, you don’t! I launched my first eBook in Aug (11 previous novels publ by mainstream publishers, but dried up in recession). BEFORE doing this, I started a blog in May. Then joined Twitter in Aug. New book? Put on back burner for 7 months while I built my profile. Good bits: making some money at last!! Meeting some great people who are now friends. Less good bits: having to be away from the WIP. From what I gather, and your blog confirms it, mainstream publishers now expect writers to do a large part of the publicity themselves. I actually quite like it, but I shudder to think what the ‘shy, retiring’ author is going to do. Get remaindered pretty fast, me thinks!’

She makes an interesting point. Publishers are increasingly relying on authors to publicise themselves. With success stories such as Fifty Shades of Grey, which started life as internet based fan fiction for Stephanie Meyer’s Twilight series, the self-published, self-publicised novel is no longer spurned as it once was. Publishers are realising that their publishing budgets will go further if the authors are doing the majority of leg work during those crucial early stages. With less of an initial outlay, publishers can wait for the reaction of the masses prior to shelling out. In the age of austerity that’s an attractive prospect.

So it equates then that an author with an established platform and fan base, or following, will be a more enticing prospect that one without. Salt Publishing, the UK indie publishers of Booker Prize shortlisted novel The Lighthouse by Alison Moore actively state on their website that they will look at an author’s online platform before making a decision to take them on. They urge would-be authors to follow their listed authors on Twitter, get involved with them and engage in their publicity machine. It’s genius – free publicity for them! But what the rest of us get, as we struggle to follow their suggestions because we desperately want to be the next Booker prize nominee, is another few hours in the day devouring darkness of the online onslaught.