A Vague Sense of Unease: Taming the Internet Habit
I traveled all over Southeast Asia with a friend for seven months when I was 21. No computers, no cell phones. They didn’t exist.
You placed a phone call once a month to let your family know you had not been sold into sex slavery or been arrested for drugs.
You waited at a call station an hour for your call to be placed, then they would call your name, you stepped into a phone booth and felt the taut heart-string pull of connection to family on the other side of the planet for 10 profoundly expensive minutes. We wrote letters and gave American Express office addresses and approximate dates as to when we might be in that city. The rest of the time you were fully present where you were with who you were with and there was no one else to consider. No where else to virtually be.
Now, we are available to everyone who’s not there, leaving the experiences and people that are actually in the room with us relegated to a second tier of our attention.
As anti-technology as I was (“Why the hell do you need to carry a phone with you? What could possibly be that important?!”), I would never in a million years have imagined I would spend so much time in front of a screen. Who knew that it would feel like an important job to respond to and “like” cat videos? The weight of responsibility to be witty and acknowledge in a caring way each circumstance that is being experienced by my 1200 “friends.” Your phone…don’t leave home without it!
When I was going though cancer treatment last summer, since I was not working, at one point I stayed off of Facebook for 10 days. I know, wild, right? After a couple of days I didn’t miss it at all, and then around day seven as I was laying in bed getting ready to sleep, I realized that I was no longer seeing a streaming Facebook feed behind my eyelids when I closed my eyes.
Let this sink in for a minute. I was literally vibrating and streaming images I had seen during the day as I went to sleep.
Not memories of actual experiences, or replaying encounters I had had with real people, but a ticker tape of computer-generated images and text burned into my retinas. That is seriously messed up. It was something that had become so normalized that it took taking it away to understand the effect it had on my nervous system. How in its absence I felt peaceful, not vaguely uneasy and anxious.
At the end of those 10 days, when I logged back in to Facebook, I had well over 100 messages and it took me 15 minutes to scroll through them and realize I hadn’t really missed anything.
In my normal world I am popping in and out, “checking,” and it easily eats up hours a day. Hours of my life.
The irony of writing an online blog about the addiction of the internet in the hope that people will read it and then comment favorably on it, is not lost on me. I am not suggesting we go back to the days before answering machines, but somehow there needs to be a tempered bridge between real life and screen life. More time spent face to face with our dear friends, and a little less time with hundreds of people with whom we are acquainted but with whom we have no real connection.
Give your retinas and your nervous system a break. Power down, go outside and pretend you are on the other side of the world and no one can get ahold of you.
Try it. It’s been done before and everything worked out just fine.