Knowing what life was like pre-internet, puts me in an ever-decreasing pool of people who remember the calm of a cranium un-craving of constant connection.
To sit on a plane, the doctor’s waiting room, or even walk down the street without a mobile to stare at, now feels like a radical act. You could come across as unemployed, unworthy, or friendless. That’s the irony, of course. Fellow humans all around you; real connections to be made. Yet people are routinely using online dating sites to find a partner.
It’s addictive. We know that. Some app makers have now conceded that they make them so. It can also be convenient, fun, and take us anywhere we want to go at the click of a button. So why is it that something so seemingly positive can flip so effortlessly into a negative?
For kids, who will never know the absence of online technology, I imagine the downstream consequences will be less than optimum. Research is already bearing that out. By the time they’re teenagers, the effects of digital distraction are in full bloom. So, the kids are hooked but, like it or not, adults struggle to model healthy media habits because we’re often just as hooked.
It’s beyond complicated. Tech is an important part of everyone’s life and future. But I believe that if we’re really honest with ourselves, something’s not working. There’s a malaise; a restlessness. We know that something’s missing but, what is it?
It’s probably as simple as the screeds already written about it. Here we are, more connected than ever before, yet lonelier and more isolated than ever too. It’s shaping up to be an endless rat wheel of circular emptiness. Like most addictions.
I, for one, have found myself far more comfortable online than I ever expected. It’s a space where interaction with others can be kept at arm’s length. I can spend time on there in a way that I couldn’t in person. As an introvert, that’s compelling.
I can pay bills, have a belly laugh on Twitter, catch up the news, book plane tickets, write a column and send it in well before deadline (of course), watch a movie, buy a book, play games, meet a new partner, or cheat on the one I have, buy a car, choose a new pet, order a pizza — you name it.
If I had a thing for grown men wearing nappies, I could find that too. And all from the comfort of my mother’s basement. Why leave home?
Fortunately, and nappy fetishes aside, I possess the good fortune of age and experience — both of which have lead me to a relatively healthy relationship with both my laptop and smartphone. I know how to turn them off, and even leave them at home when I venture forth into the world of living, breathing, actual souls.
Having despised Zuckerberg’s ethics and algorithms for years, I finally made the decision to permanently leave Facebook a few weeks back. I wasn’t using it much anyway, and I’d come to hate just about everything about it. Everyone’s life was starting to look far more exciting than mine, and there’s only so many photos of someone’s dinner that one can look at without smashing plates.
I also committed to cut down significantly on my Twitter use, and time spent online in general. Why? Because it scatters my brain, disrupts concentration, and is incredibly distracting.
I’d even started having trouble reading books, with my attention span becoming noticeably shorter. A book started to feel too confining. You have to really focus, and there’s no surfing it.
It was then I knew I had a problem. I love reading books more than anything in the world — except men in nappies — and to actively avoid even picking one up indicated that I needed to change. So, I did.
But what if you simply don’t know that something is missing? If you’ve had an online world since birth, it’s effect on you is unknowable. Which is why addiction clinics are springing up all over the world, and teenagers are being booked in by their exasperated parents.
Studies continue to show that teen suicide and depression is increasing in direct correlation with the rise of smartphone users. It’s more than just playing too many video games. It’s a constant compulsion to be online. Fear of missing out drives much of it. The end result is that it becomes way more important than the activities of life.
The pleasure derived from real life, in the real world, is priceless. I’m not talking about going on a trip and endlessly taking selfies. I’m talking about not even getting the camera out. Have a crack at storing those memories in your head.
Otherwise, the only peace you’ll find is when you’re dead.
Rachel Stewart on Twitter: @RFStew
–Credit: nzherald.co.nz – Technology