Ep. 33 – Why constant internet access isn’t the sum of all evil

These past few months, I’ve began seeing a recurring theme pop up all over the Internet: the Internet is hindering our offline life (in every and any, shape, way or form, depending on who you talk to).

People are talking about and discussing how the Internet (the very medium they are using to share their thoughts about their own presence on the Internet, and the overall effects of it), is enabling them to fall short in either their personal lives, their professional lives, or both.

This phenomena has led to the coining of the expression “digital detox”. If you Google the expression, which sounds like a frilly, novel term which only millennials use, like “wellness” and “avocado toast”, you will get the following intricate definition:

“A period of time during which a person refrains from using electronic devices such as smart phones or computers, regarded as an opportunity to reduce stress or focus on a social interaction in the physical world.”

The first obvious thing to discuss, would be: “Why do we need a digital detox in the first place?”

Nothing but the agreed upon expression, digital “detox”, implies that almost everything digitally connected, has acquired the power to be considered as some kind of drug. A drug that we can’t get enough of.

Then there’s the overall agreed upon definition. The definition implies that the people who would need a detox from their electronic devices, are those who overly seek comfort in them, or those who have lost their focus on their social interactions.

We can’t really disagree that our connected devices aren’t drug-like, when we see how many people are obsessed with staring down at their screens, and the physical withdrawal we feel when we spend a few minutes or hours offline. We do it everywhere we go, no matter how appropriate (or inappropriate) it is. We do it on public transports, we do it at the doctors office, we do it everywhere where there’s waiting involved. But, what’s even worse, is that we do it even when we should be stimulated enough by the world around us to not feel like we have to stare at our phones: at a movie theatre, at dinner with our friends/family, in classrooms, relaxing on a sunny beach…

While a digital obsession isn’t as dangerous as a chemical substance one, it doesn’t mean its’ effects on our lives are negligible. It’s still a pretty big deal, and says something perhaps not so pretty about our generation.

We’ve all experienced withdrawal from being de-connected. In our modern day and age, it would be kind of crazy to not take advantage of what the Internet of Things has to offer. It makes our lives way simpler. It can give us answers to questions it would have taken several minutes, if not hours, of searching in books to find – in just a split second. It helps us stay friends with people hundreds, and thousands of miles away from us. There are a plethora of benefits to being connected.

But what about the advantages of being not being connected? It kind of seems that the advantages the internet brings, are the same one that not having access to it enable, i.e, you have to go to the library, or buy books to learn something new. You have to actually go somewhere in person, to see your friends far, far away (or just down the street, for that matter). You have to get a physical map, to find your way around. And while doing things “the hard way”, may not be an obligation, since we can technically (literally) do it “the easy way”, maybe the hard way isn’t necessarily synonym with “the worst” or “most annoying” way.

Because the truth is, we still like reading real, physical books. We still take pleasure of opening a paper map (even if we’re increasingly bad at reading them, now). We still enjoy writing a letter on paper, folding it up, slipping it into an envelope, licking the back of a stamp, and taking it to the post office. We still like to walk to our friends house, or going to visit a friend hours away, just to see them and talk to them in person.

We just have more options now.

I recently read an article about a guy who quit the internet for an entire year. And to sum things up, he found that the internet wasn’t the devil. It wasn’t the reason why his life felt empty or unproductive at times. He discovered that wasn’t reasonable anymore to blame the internet for his short comings (not reading enough, not eating healthy enough, not writing his novel, not spending enough time with others). Another thing he learned, is that our so called “virtual” lives, aren’t as virtual as we think.

Something virtual, is defined as “not physically existing as such, but made by software to appear to do so”. Turns out that our “online-ness”, is more “real” than we think, because of the importance it has in our lives. It is predominant. It’s how we communicate, almost exclusively.

The upsides are most felt with relationships, he found. Better one-on-one communication, un-interrupted by messenger pings or funny memes in your feeds, taking your attention away from your friends and family interactions. But worse long-distance family and friendship relationships. Not so surprising.

I guess the moral of the story is: don’t blame your short comings or feelings of failure, on your internet connection. And no need to go cold turkey on it, either.

You have enough time to write a book, work out, eat healthier, and spend more time with your friends and family. You just choose to spend a huge chunk of it staring at a screen, instead of doing the things you know you should do, and the things you know you aspire to do. You seek confort online, instead of within yourself and among other people. You’ve lost sight of the value of being offline from time to time.

A lot of us have.

So don’t make a big deal about it: if you can’t leave your phone at home, at least put yourself in airplane mode for a few hours per day and make the most of being offline.

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Not my photo. Andy Warhol and Debbie Harry.