Like many of us, I rely on the Internet every day, and I don’t know how I’d survive without it. But it also makes me crazy. Some days I come away from hours of browsing feeling truly unhappy.
Here’s why I have a love-hate relationship with the Interweb:
1) There’s new content literally every time you blink, and most of it is free.
Pro: I’m constantly entertained or fascinated. I can watch most of my favorite shows online. I can get up-to-the minute announcements about cultural events in town, or safety alerts on hurricanes that are moving into my area.
Con: I feel guilty and ignorant every day for not keeping up with the constant flood of breaking news. I feel like Newman from Seinfeld, working in the post office: “The mail never stops. It just keeps coming and coming and coming. There’s never a letup. It’s relentless.” I typically have dozens of web pages open, nagging at me to check them out. A friend sends me a New York Times article, and by the time I get around to reading it, it’s old news. Next! It’s simply not possible to keep pace with everything newsworthy, but I still feel like a failure for not being able to.
The attention span in the developed world is now very short. In Homer’s Greece, people used to listen to stories so long that they took days to tell. Can you imagine that scenario today? Homer’s audience would be fidgeting, checking email on their Blackberries, and Twittering “Yaaaaawn. Longest. Story. Ever.” Neuroscientists say that the speed of online media is affecting kids’ brain development, keeping it in an infantile state that needs constant and changing stimulation.
Pro: People can learn about cultures all over the world and appreciate diversity. They can become more informed about injustices far from their hometowns and can contribute to efforts to fix them. They also can hear inspirational stories from countries far and wide and take lessons from them about how to make social change. Watchdog groups and grassroots activists can get their message out even with zero funding.
Con: People are affected by not only their own troubles and joys and those of their communities, but also those of countless strangers. It takes a lot of energy to process all that information, and even more to care about it.
Pro: The Internet has democratized education. Anyone can be a teacher, student, reporter, business person, or writer (of varying quality, of course). I’ve Googled new recipes and safe cosmetics, researched how long eggs stay good in the fridge, how to fix a toaster, and how to know when a wound needs stitches (this is very useful when you’re as klutzy as I am). Darren has taught me that there’s probably free software or a tutorial to solve just about any organizational or technological problem you have.
Con: Using the Internet can be like eating from the Tree of Knowledge. You may find out things that you would have been better off not ever knowing. You can clutter up your brain sifting through and retaining more knowledge than your ancestors could ever even access.
Getting used to instant gratification has made us more impatient and demanding (this article is from 10 years ago, and it’s gotten worse since), which I believe contributes to social problems like road rage.
Pro: You can maintain light but meaningful contact with people you know all over the world, staying connected by instantly exchanging pictures and leaving comments for each other. You can locate friends that you’d thought you’d lost forever and be part of each other’s lives again.
Con: At some point, your social circle gets unwieldy. You may feel obligated to send happy birthday wishes to that girl you met at a party once, or keep up with your friend’s every thought on Twitter. It seems unnatural to collect people like our parents did stamps, instead of naturally losing touch with some. You may also spend so much time in your online kingdom that you neglect the face-to-face human contact that all of us need.
Pro: We’re more aware of their thoughts, feelings, and actions day-to-day, and ideally more intentional about the way we live.
Con: We’re more self-absorbed and self-important. What? I’m not the center of the universe? But I have my own website.
The Internet has made life easier for humans in a lot of ways, but it also burdens us with challenges that previous generations didn’t have. Even more, it’s simply unnatural for us to sit in front of a computer screen for hours at a time. Just ask my own aching shoulders and glazed eyes.
If you’re feeling unhappy or strangely numb, ask yourself if you need a digital detox. Break your addiction to Facebook by going for a walk in the fresh afternoon air; meet up with your friends for coffee instead of instant messaging them. Spend a Saturday in an independent bookstore. Organize a potluck. Paint. Remember that our grandparents lived without Internet, and many of them still do. You’ll not only survive your trial separation from your computer screen, but I’ll bet that you’ll feel refreshed and somehow more alive.
Your Two Cents: Leave a Comment!
What kind of love-hate relationship do you have with the Internet? Do you have any tips for a digital detox?