Brittany: Hey guys! Today Jeff Garvin, author of Symptoms of Being Human, is stopping by Brittany's Book Rambles to share with all of you how he thinks internet changed teenage life. We hope you guys enjoy it =)
Jeff Garvin grew up in Orange County, California, the son of a banker and a magician. He started acting in high school, and enjoyed a fifteen-year career including guest-starring roles in network television series ranging from The Wonder Years to Roseanne to Caroline and the City, as well as several independent features.
While studying at Chapman University, Jeff won awards for classical guitar and visual storytelling before graduating with a BFA in Film. As the front man of his rock band, 7k, Garvin released three albums and toured the United States. When the band dissolved in 2011, Jeff, who had always written short stories and lyrics, found his passion in full-length fiction.
His debut novel, SYMPTOMS OF BEING HUMAN, tells the story of Riley, a 16-year-old gender fluid teen who starts an anonymous blog to deal with hostility from classmates and tension at home. But when the blog goes viral, a storm of media attention threatens Riley’s anonymity. Coming February 2, 2016 from Balzer + Bray / HarperCollins.
Jeff lives in Southern California with his music teacher wife, their menagerie, and a respectable collection of books and guitars.
HOW THE INTERNET CHANGED TEENAGE LIFE
By Jeff Garvin, Author of Symptoms of Being Human, 2/2/16,
In my novel Symptoms of Being Human, the secretly-gender-fluid main character, Riley, starts an anonymous blog to cope with tension at home and bullying at school. As Riley’s therapist predicts, the blog helps, allowing Riley to vent and connect with like-minded souls. But then the blog goes viral, and an anonymous commenter threatens to expose Riley’s true identity.
When I was a teenager, the Internet was very different than it is now. Logging in was a cumbersome, noisy process. Images took forever to download, and “social media” consisted of a clunky IM client called ICQ and a handful of shady chat rooms. Now, the phone you’re reading this on has 3000% more memory than my first desktop computer.
So, yeah. Life is different for teenagers now. Here are some of the learnings and observations I gathered as I wrote and did research for Symptoms.
HOW LIFE IS BETTER
Keeping In Touch.
I had two pen pals in high school—one on the opposite coast and the other in Europe. Letters took ten days to arrive by mail; we’d each get one a month, two if we were really diligent. I’ve since lost touch with both correspondents. Now, if I make a new friend while I’m traveling, I pull out my phone and friend them on Facebook immediately. Just yesterday, I messaged someone I met at pub in Paris seven years ago, and another old friend I haven’t seen since high school. That kind of access is a life-changer for me—but for teenagers now, it’s always been that way. This connectivity changes the quantity and quality of the friendships today’s teenagers form in a way that probably hasn’t been measured yet. That is truly awesome.
Connecting with Strangers.
Of the 457 people I follow on Tumblr, I’ve met maybe five IRL—and yet, almost daily, I scroll through posts that express their deepest thoughts and feelings. Without leaving my room, I’ve connected with people around the world who adore the same bands, books, and movies that I do. There was nothing like this when I was teenager. If I’d been able to talk with other acne-riddled, Oingo Boingo-obsessed, Dungeons-and-Dragons-playing teenagers when I was in high school, I can’t even imagine how different my life would be.
Access to Information
This is what research looked like when I was in High School; now I have the power of Google in my back pocket. But even day-to-day social interactions are different—you used to be able to bluff your way through an argument at lunch. Now, all it takes is one frenemy with an iPhone to call you out with a Wikipedia entry.
HOW LIFE IS WORSE
The worst my parents could do was go through my backpack or search my room. But I had good hiding places (they rarely checked my filing cabinet, for example) and I even wrote parts of my journal in code. (Wow. I’m just realizing how paranoid that sounds.) But now, parents can learn a lot about you by perusing your online profiles and checking your messaging history. You can’t burn a text or crumple it up and swallow it when your mom knocks on the door.
When I was a teen, if somebody wanted to ruin your reputation, they had to spread lies in person, or at least pass a note. Now they can post an anonymous comment on Tumblr or smear you on Facebook and wreck your whole life—all without leaving the comfort of their bedroom. One study shows that more than 34% of teens have been cyberbullied, over 15% in the last month. I endured my fair share of gut punches and wedgies in the locker room, but I never had to contend with anonymous online hate.
I had a Long Distance Relationship in high school. She lived 3,000 miles away and, while our letter-writing spanned several years, we spent only nine days in each other’s physical presence. If we’d had Instant Messaging and Snapchat, I’m not sure if our romance would have lasted longer and been less painful, or blown up and burned out more quickly. What I do know is that millions of teenagers now have instant access to like-minded souls all over the world whom they will likely never meet in person. And while that might be an amazing comfort at times, I imagine it must cause more heartache than satisfaction. Or maybe I’m just a pessimist.
In Symptoms of Being Human, Riley is confronted with intense harassment and bullying at school—but also forges intimate friendships. Online, Riley faces anonymous hatred and threats—but also connects with other teenagers facing the same struggle with gender identity. The story of Symptoms would’ve been drastically altered if I had overlooked the influence of social media, blogging, and instant messaging in the life of today’s teenagers. In fact, Riley couldn’t have become who Riley is at the end of Symptoms without all these things. Writing the novel made me appreciate growing up in a more analog age—but I can’t help but wonder what I’d be like if life my teenage years had been a bit more digital.
Brittany: Thank you, Jeff for stopping by our blog today! I definitely relate to a lot of the things that you've said and I'm sure a lot of readers will as well. If you guys haven't heard of Symptoms of Being Human, check out the info below!
Symptoms of Being Human by Jeff Garvin
Release Date: February 2, 2016
Publisher: Balzer + Bray
Pre-order: Amazon | B&N | Book Depository |
The first thing you’re going to want to know about me is: Am I a boy, or am I a girl? Riley Cavanaugh is many things: Punk rock. Snarky. Rebellious. And gender fluid. Some days Riley identifies as a boy, and others as a girl. The thing is . . . Riley isn’t exactly out yet. And between starting a new school and having a congressman father running for reelection in uber-conservative Orange County, the pressure—media and otherwise—is building up in Riley’s so-called “normal” life.
On the advice of a therapist, Riley starts an anonymous blog to vent those pent-up feelings and tell the truth of what it’s REALLY like to be a gender-fluid teenager. But just as Riley’s starting to settle in at school—even developing feelings for a mysterious outcast—the blog goes viral, and an unnamed commenter discovers Riley’s real identity, threatening exposure. Riley must make a choice: walk away from what the blog has created—a lifeline, new friends, a cause to believe in—or stand up, come out, and risk everything.