There are certain things in the modern world, that melt your brain. Everyone knows it, yet we still engage with these things. I have found myself naturally repelled, giving up both TV and computer games by the time I was 16, despite being the only one in my family to do so. My surface reason taking action was that I wanted more time to practice musical instruments. I got it.
But now, I find that my mind is being infected on a daily basis by yet another brain-melter. This one is much more difficult to spot and to break away from. It’s a time-thief, it tricks people into making virtual contact with each other instead of real contact and is a source of constant mind-noise and distraction of the exact kind that blocks creativity. It is THE INTERNET.
The Internet has some great things on it, as well as the mind-melters, but they are intrinsically linked. It’s like having an encyclopaedia welded to the TV, so that every time you want to look up some useful information, you have to look at the TV too.
Another problem with the Internet is that unless we want to live in an alternative community somewhere, we can’t switch it off. I’ve tried, whilst living in a van and in a yurt, and I simply found that I couldn’t do my job. If you gave up internet, friends would understand of course and contact you by phone or in person, but unless you want to say goodbye to job applications, or to clients for your self employed business actually finding you, to free information that you would otherwise have to pay for (such as weather forecasting, maps, telephone directory, books, music) internet seems the obvious choice.
There is nothing intrinsically wrong with using the Internet. When it first appeared people didn’t really “surf”. They would look for the information they wanted and then get off it. But now, the monster has become more like TV.
TV wants you to watch it and keep watching it. It distracts you and makes you passive. It pushes itself into your life. This is the sort of intrusive behaviour you’d expect from anyone who wants you to BUY SOMETHING. The internet is NOW behaving like TV because it wants you to buy stuff. Subscriptions are the best, since there don’t even have to come up with a physical product.
Facebook, YouTube and any other social media WANT YOU ONLINE. These people want your money. Do you WANT to pay attention to people who want your money? No! And yet there they are, on the internet, on the right hand side, pretending to be your friend by appearing next to pictures of your “facebook friends”. When you use smart-phone apps that include adverts, you’re literally allowing a company to put adverts on the palm of your hand. Adverts melt your brain because they are designed to – smart people spend all their working hours finding ways to get into your head with an ad.
The other brain-melting problem is communication technology. You CAN communicate with someone without physically being with them, or even being on the phone. Even phone is better than text communication because at least you can hear each other’s voices. Yes, it’s great to be able to get messages to people we love, all around the world, but of course humans seem to respond to this by cutting down on real-life contact, so we get lonely. The current recession it’s hard to want to spend money on travel to visit or meet a friend, to do fun activity that costs money, when we could just sit at home in front of facebook and surf youtube whilst chatting online. Yet, we don’t realise what this is costing us emotionally – voluntary depression.
TV addiction is like alcohol addiction – you stop. Internet addiction is like an eating disorder – you can’t give up food, you just have to find a healthier relationship with it. That’s a contentious statement in itself. Is Internet as important as food in the 21st Century? You decide.
The next question: Is there any benefit in engaging with the internet? TV and video games I condemned straight off. I don’t want to engage with them. Well, there IS something different about the internet – ANYONE can contribute. Big companies want to make sure that they reach the top of google results and fill up your sidebar with adverts. Yet, there are still ordinary people with valuable things to say, who are able to be heard because of the internet. Facebook may want you to stay on facebook, but it’s not nazi enough to stop people sharing “anti-facebook” videos through it (like this one: http://www.mobiledia.com/news/189649.html )
I am going to run and experiment to see if I can have a “healthy relationship” with the internet. I totally admit from the start that it’s an experiment. So, I might end up concluding that a healthy relationship just isn’t possible, and you’ll find I’ve disappeared offline to a community somewhere, where people sit around the fire every night and play music, and I don’t have to trawl through the internet inviting people to gigs, all to try and replicate that same simple experience through the commercial world.
When I was a teenager and the internet was so young that people had only just invented chain-emails (or “forwards”), people fought back. I received an email called F.F.F.F.F.F. (Fighting For A Forward Free Future). It said something like this:
“We don’t want junk emails even if they are funny or entertaining. If we want to read something on the net, we’ll go look it up ourselves. If you agree, vow to never send a forward again, except for this one. Send this one to all your friends. We realise that is fighting forwards with a ‘forward’, but that children, is what we call irony.”
In the same spirit, here is a list of things I’ll be doing to improve my relationship with the Internet. If you agree, join me, and share this post, ironically.
- Cut down: Before using the Internet for any purpose, check if you could do the same thing offline instead and take that option wherever possible. Stay focused when you are online by writing down a list of your tasks (email Fred, find recipe for cake etc…). Keep referring back to the list to that to stop yourself getting distracted by aimless surfing. Time yourself this week– find out how much time you really spend on the Internet and is it serving you?
- Get rid of adverts: Reset homepage to a search engine or ad free page. Turn the volume off of youtube ads. Limit or boycott any webpages that have adverts on them. We know that if they allow ads, their underlying aim is to sell to you, period.
- Get rid of push data: Being able to have an uninterrupted train of thought it what allows us to have ideas! Anything that pops up on a screen distracts you and ruins this process by forcing information into your brain at the wrong moment. Switch off all push notifications for facebook, email, ebay, even text messages if you need to. Take all social media websites OFF your bookmarks list and see if you can be bothered to go there if each time you have to type in the full url. Check your messages WHEN you want to. You’re not replying to them anyway whilst you’re marking them as “read” whilst in the queue at the bank, on lunch, and then forgetting to reply later anyway.
- Only make contact with people ON PURPOSE: When making contact with anyone, only use the internet if you can’t meet them in person or phone them. Send snail mail if the message isn’t urgent. It’s worth the price of the stamp for the portion of your brain you’ll get back by cutting down on Internet time. Switch off any I.M. chat applications. Make Skype video appointments instead of “seeing who’s online”.
- Unsubscribe: Unsubscribe from all those websites that you’re not really interested in. Whatever you do, don’t sign up to any new websites. They just want your data and to be able to email you forever, selling stuff.
That’s it. Please add to this list if you have more ideas, and share this post… ironically.