We’ve all heard the fear-mongering about the internet. “This is destroying our attention spans, our thoughts, our brains!” “Social media is a comparison trap, a breeding ground for depression!” “Hyper-connectivity has brought an end to true connection!” Some of this is a bit over-the-top, but I must admit that the internet, on the whole, does concern me in a few aspects.
For one, recent generations spend a lot of time on social media, 27 hours a week, by some accounts, almost four hours every day. Just think about your own habits–count in your Instagram, Snapchat, Facebook, Twitter (for the three people who still have one…), YouTube, messaging, music, podcasts/audiobooks, game-playing, Netflix-binging, article-perusing, Googling… the list really can go on for every individual user because the Internet is as boundless and infinite as the world which it has enveloped.
What purpose does this serve, what does it give us in return for our time? Greater connection, for one thing–I have a few friends, not to mention siblings, who live quite a distance from me, but I can, of course, FaceTime them and follow their lives on Facebook and Instagram. Much of the Internet also makes life more efficient, but I think we can all agree it swallows up more of our time than it saves.
In every generation, there will be wastes of time. Doodling, writing letters (people did that, right?), frivolous chat, reading, talking on the telephone, watching television. And now, the internet. What’s the difference? None of these time-wasters behave like drugs, at least, not in the way the internet does. One source says “One can be neurologically addicted to technology in the same way that they can be addicted to drugs or alcohol,” and The New York Post says that what may be happening with the internet is that it “is physically addicting like a drug.” If you’re doubtful, just do a bit of Googling. Anything can be addictive–excessive eating, smoking, even exercise–but what’s addictive enough that we spend four hours or more surfing, perusing, viewing, scrolling its vastness? The internet. And that’s not an accident. Creators of entertainment platforms (whether it be social medias, news organizations, or video-streaming) know how to get you addicted, and they do it quite purposely. This action is not fueled by malicious intent (hopefully–yet), rather, they’re just men and women doing their job to increase ad revenue, for the most part. However, as these CEOs find themselves holding more and more power, you can bet they will use this to their advantage in some way. It may sound bleak and unrealistic, but I’m just going to put it out there: totalitarian dictatorships in the west are getting easier with every step forward on this new frontier. As “the internet of things” creeps in, and we connect our heater, our fridge, our locks–even our toilets–to the web, we could easily usher in a controlling regime, which cannot be threatened, under penalty of shutting off our lovely toasters. Maybe consider that the next time you find yourself willingly whispering your secrets and thoughts into the web, whether that’s in a status update, or a private message. If you feel like this is an outrageous, unrealistic claim, just consider what is already happening–huge companies are using their data on us (gathered from practically anything you do with your smartphone or laptop) to target ads and even hide certain posts to further their particular agenda.
I’m not enough of an idiot to use my online platform to scream “the internet is dangerous, run little children, run!” at the top of my lungs. But I might whisper it, because this is freaky. Just think: how many hours did you spend on Facebook ten or fifteen years ago? And how much time do you spend on it today? You may enjoy seeing pictures of your family, or that friend you met out of state two years ago. And you may appreciate gifting your wit to the world now and then. But at least consider, what else could you be doing with your time? If Instagram is your thing, are you sure all of that scrolling is really making you happier and more fulfilled? If you’re on Twitter, must you really know all the terrible news of the day that quickly? And if you’re currently sending off your Snapchat streaks for the day, stop and ask yourself why that number matters, especially if that one daily connection is a general, impersonal one. You may realize that you have been blindly taking part in a system that delivers nothing but empty endorphins.
Steps moving forward: power down all your devices, smash them with a hammer, retreat to a cave without wifi, and never speak to anyone else who is still tied to the web. It’s not safe! Steps moving forward if you’re a normal person who has to, you know, live a life and stuff: be mindful of your internet use. Ask yourself, “could I go a day without using the internet? How does the time I spend on the internet make me feel? What could I do with my extra two hours if I slashed my internet use in half?” And set goals for yourself, like “every Tuesday, I will not use [insert addictive social media, or all of them],” or “from the time I get up to the time I get home from work/school, I will not use my phone except to text, or use non-internet tools.” When it comes to the realm of entertainment, try binge-reading like we did in the ancient days of the 1900s, (instead of binge-watching,) to grow your attention span. All of these changes could literally (as in, literally, not figuratively, that’s why I used the word “literally”) impact every area of your life. Small changes can make you happier, healthier, and even bring you closer to the people you care about.
While there are many benefits to what the internet has brought us, there are also things to be concerned about, like the amount of time we spend on it, our privacy, the safety of free thought, and general wellbeing. To combat these things, we must be aware of the threat they pose, and take steps to avoid the addiction of the internet.
How do you avoid being addicted to your smartphone? What are your thoughts on the issues presented, and how do you believe we can best face them? Share your ideas below, and you may be featured in a future blog post. You may choose to be identified only by your first name, or remain anonymous.