exciting, informative, snarky, and very likely fabricated tales of life as an american expat in london

i know, you know, that i can’t get away

by Jen at 2:09 pm on 16.09.2010 | 5 Comments
filed under: mundane mayhem

i remember very clearly the first time i became aware of the addictive power of the internet. the year was 1994, and i was finishing up my last year at new york university, with some extracurricular credits to fulfill, and decided to take a computer course. as part of the course, they took us to the university computer lab and introduced us to the newfangled internet.

this is a pretty good representation of what the internet looked like in 1994. and yet, one boring friday night, i found myself going to the computer lab, just to do a bit of surfing. before i knew it, i was a frequent visitor, getting caught up in usenet, following hypertext link after hypertext link. the only thing that curtailed my internet browsing at the time was the lab’s two hour limit that kicked me off the computer so people could, y’know, do schoolwork.

once i graduated in the spring of 1995, however, it quickly became clear to me that i had to get my own computer. in all honestly, i pretty much only purchased my mac (which i could not, as a broke new graduate, even afford at the time) in order to spend time on the internet. people became frequently annoyed with me for monopolising my phone line using my 56K modem (”but i can’t reach you! what’s email?”) but i was hooked, and the only thing now keeping me in check was the price of dialup time.

it’s only really gotten worse from there. i can easily spend most waking hours in front of a computer screen – even better, my addiction is now more socially acceptable than ever. no one thinks it unusual that i keep the internet on my body at all times via my iphone. no on thinks it unusual to meet people via the web or internet forums. no one thinks it unusual that i document my thoughts on a blog, facebook, and twitter. society and technology have become my enablers. the internet is the first thing i turn on in the morning, and the last thing i turn off at night.

but i can no longer deny that it is taking its toll. it’s become fashionable of late to talk about unplugging, but it’s something i’ve been pondering for a while. i’ve been reading the “your brain on computers” series at the new york times, and recognise myself in nearly every paragraph. i am unable to modulate my computer usage, and it is having an effect on other areas of my life. for example, my book reading has nosedived in the past few years. now, i actually read a significant amount during the day – i read the news every morning on my commute, i read blogs and critiques and web articles throughout the day, and in fact i have a backlog of bookmarked information waiting for me to read in my downtime. but when i sit down to read a book, even a book i am truly interested in, i find myself unable to fall into that deep well of concentration and imagination that i used to love so much. i am unable to give it my full attention for more than 20 minutes at a time, and consequently am barely making it through even a dozen books a year. for someone who used to consider herself a serious reader, that’s frankly shocking.

i am no longer able to enjoy my music. i collect lots and lots of music via various blogs, or (the dangerously immediate) itunes, and while my 25 gig music library is not as large as some, it has become far too large for me to really enjoy. i spend so much time looking for new stuff, that i rarely listen to anything i already have. i find myself incessantly clicking through my ipod catalogue, hurrying through whatever is currently playing because i want to see what comes up next. i’ve always joked that i have the attention span of a fruit fly, but it verges on the ridiculous that i am too impatient to wait for a 3 minute song to finish before checking on the next one.

i am unable to allow myself any unconnected down time. i fill all the random moments of my life (waiting for a train, waiting on a queue, waiting to meet a friend, waiting for a movie to start) with information at all times. any time i’m not actively doing something else, i’m either clicking though twitter, listening to podcasts, or checking email. hell, i can’t even just watch television without also doing something else on my phone, and i am never doing *nothing*. i am never just observing, or thinking or (god forbid) interacting with the external world. and what’s worse is that i now find the non-connected external world boring, creating further incentive to keep my headphones plugged into my ears, my eyes glued to my iphone screen. i am less and less engaged with the non-digital world. i am less and less present in both my imagination, and my real life. when i’m not connected, my brain feels empty – not in the pleasant sense of being relaxed, but in the scary sense of feeling devoid of thought.

i don’t like what the internet is doing to my head. i feel that when i am not connected, i must be missing something, and when i am paying attention to one thing, it means i must be missing out on something even better. when i want to sit down and read a novel, i find myself too distracted by everything else to do so. when i want to listen to a new album, i find myself too distracted by everything else to do so. when i want to write a blog post, i find myself too distracted by everything else to do so. i find myself fantasising about being able to leave my iphone home for just a day, and yet i can’t. in my head, i negotiate how long i’ll spend on the computer, and then i break my own agreement.

part of the difficulty is, of course, that we can no longer live unconnected lives. not in a westernised, modern world. we are required to spend time on computers for jobs, everyday communication, etc. much like a food addict cannot just stop eating, i cannot just stop using technology. and i don’t really want to. i mean, i can’t see much point in spending a month offline like this guy did in his experiment, when, as soon as he got back online, he found himself back in the same rut.

what i crave most is balance. i am jealous of people who have it because i don’t know how to find it, or more accurately, enforce it. i haven’t, as yet, neglected my relationships, friends, work or social life, and i haven’t yet suffered any real adverse effects – but i know that the importance of the internet in my life has become completely lopsided, and perhaps even (to use the language of addiction) unmanageable.

i fear i may need to just go cold turkey in an attempt to press some kind of imaginary reset button, but an all-or-nothing stance doesn’t seem like a reasonable solution to the problem of digital addiction when we live in the internet age. in short, i need help. if you’ve managed to find some semblance of balance, how did you do it? i welcome any advice.

i can’t get away – stardeath and white dwarfs

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  • 1

    Comment by lisa

    17.09.2010 @ 04:04 am

    it the multi-tasker in all of us. We are trained early to bounce back and forth. The internet feeds into this.

    I think the cold turkey is a great idea….take a weekend of no online. Or try limits that you don’t go online more then 30 min a nite or not at all after work.

  • 2

    Comment by Jen

    18.09.2010 @ 09:56 am

    i know – i try to limit myself, but it never seems to work for very long (

    i’m most distressed that it’s impacting on things i love, like reading and music.

  • 3

    Comment by lisa

    19.09.2010 @ 03:01 am

    Hope you find your mo-jo. My jogging mix is missing some new updates from you ) and my stack of books to read is getting pretty high. I guess we all have to find the right balance.

  • 4

    Comment by Amity

    19.09.2010 @ 11:55 am

    How about instead of putting it in terms of cutting back on your internet use (which you obviously enjoy), you just carve out more time for reading, music and other things you have been neglecting? I know that this means actually cutting down on online time but it’s the way its framed that can make the difference between feeling ‘deprived’ of something and merely making time for something else.

    When I started feeling down about how little I was reading, I made a pact that I would read before bed, even if it was only a few pages, and on the train instead of using my phone. I also dedicate at least one uninterrupted hour to reading each Sunday (sometimes more if I’m lucky). It’s not a huge amount and sometimes I do find myself checking email and Facebook instead of reading at the ’set’ time but mostly I’ve stuck to it because I didn’t feel like I was actually giving up anything. Does that make sense? I guess it’s like the difference between declaring yourself on a diet and just making a few small changes to your eating habits. Putting a limit on something just makes it that much more desirable!

  • 5

    Comment by daddio

    4.10.2010 @ 03:48 am

    so you could always call you old dad to just talk. you know, i had such a wonderful time in turkey and it sounds like you had only a so so time. though you would be curious when i fed you my teaser line. didn t want to type out 2 weeks of my adventures, but i do want to share them with you. you are not addicted to the net, you just make choices. sometimes we realize that we could have made better choices in life. someday you will be dead….i hope the people at you wake will entertain themselves with the stories you lived in life and now seem worth telling again to remember the essence of what you brought to this world and the people you touched.

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