Some new studies are out, pointing out the troublesome backside of our connectedness online via e-mail, Facebook, Twitter and texting (SMS in Swedish). A new study concludes that the internet is more addictive than alcohol and nicotine, and I am starting to believe that (I don't have the link to the study yet, will post it when I find it). I have worried about this a long time, and have made a conscious decision not to be active on Facebook, not to have a twitter account, and try to keep the flow of information into and out of my head under my own control. But in today's world you can't do your job unless you are connected online, and without an e-mail account that you check everyday, your career and job availability would mostly be dead (well, maybe not if you are an artist living in New Hampshire, but I think you know what I mean... :).
I make it harder for me to be or get too addicted by not getting a smartphone, not having the laptop at the breakfast table, and consciously turning off e-mail and Skype during stretches of time at work, but the feeling is still there - "Oh, what is new? What is going on? Who needs me now? What cool things am I missing!?" I believe that this deluge of wanted and unwanted information plays straight into our psychological triggers in our brain. We get addicted, if we want it or not. And the more we use it, the more addicted we get.
I teach at a university and cellphone and internet use is not allowed in my classroom. But 30 seconds before class starts half the class is sitting with their cell phones and earpieces and hangs out online. They are not present in the moment in the classroom. After class starts, they put it away, because I do stop the lecture and ask students who text/surf/etc. on the internet if they want to leave the classroom. So far, nobody has when I asked, everybody just apologies.
Some professors just give up and let the students do whatever they want, but I want to present a counterpoint to the deluge and addiction out there. If you are in my class you should be focused on the class and the topic, nothing else. I know this is hard, from my own experience, since I have been through many boring lectures, meetings and seminars in my day. But if so, then doodle with a pen while listening, don't run to the internet and get totally off-track.
Meetings, which is a whole other subject. I often sit in meeting at the big university with fancy professors, busy staff, or pompous administrators, and nearly half of them are playing around with their gadgets (mostly Blackberries, iPads or iPhones these days). It is not only horribly rude to the persons that are trying to get things done, it is also inefficient and leads to longer, and more boring, meetings that take on the feeling that these meetings are unimportant. If I lead a meeting from now on, I will ask everybody to refrain from any internet use, pay attention to the meeting and focus on solutions, instead of drifting off into unfocused realities. Senior professors that just got an iPad or iPhone are the worst...
Remember when TV was all bad for you? Carrying an iPhone with you is a lot worse than having a TV on at home (I do think TV on all the time is bad too). But the iPhone is there, in your pocket, like a happy pill that you can take as often and as much as you can. Who can say no? And when there are free games that become truly addictive, a hundred contacts (that you really don't know), and everything is instant, forever, and shallow - it is not necessarily always a good thing.
The internet and social media could be used in a good way, and often is, but how do we make sure WE are in charge of our time and lives, and not someone else? Gambling is considered an addition, but I think excessive internet use should be classified as one as well. The problem is that internet use is EVERYWHERE, and includes kids from 2 years old and upwards. And here I am, blogging about the problems with the internet... :P
So, here is my advice. Turn off your cell phone sometimes. Never check e-mail or your phone in bed. Read a book. Insist on being unavailable at times. Refuse to get addicted, use the internet on your terms. Focus, focus, focus. Laugh at funny YouTube videos, blog, and post photos and videos online, when you feel like it, not when you feel like you have to. Let us enhance the good things about the internet, and not forget that the real things are things you can touch and think about without the help of a screen, like a deer vertebrae in a forest, a good book, making pasta primavera, and creating things that are possible to touch, view, smell. In 3 months, nobody will care how many friends you have online, but you will care about how many friends you could have a good time with in person at your house. And that is what really matters.
Don't get me wrong here, I think there are really creative and positive uses for internet resources, it is just the addiction and the lack of focus on real things that gets to me. It is all about the quality of the input to and output from of our brains. There isn't enough thinking in the world anymore.
OK, enough ranting from me, and here are some articles about this for those of you that want to read even more:
Uppdaterade och sömnlösa (DN.se, in Swedish, "Updated and sleepless")