Wednesday, December 01, 2004

Internet Withdrawal
This morning on NPR, I listened to a story, Digital Generations: High-Speed Withdrawal, about a study on people who had agreed to go without internet access for a certain period of time. The whole story was very interesting, hence the link to it above, but what caught my attention the most was the people reporting that they felt more free, like they wasted less time and did more meaningful things, like read books. My first response was to think the same thing, but that's not the whole truth.

First of all, I can't really compare myself completely to the people in the study, because I do still have internet access, just not as much as I used to. When I was in Japan, I got far more involved with being online than I ever was before. The only contact I had with most people from home was IM or email. Oddly enough, I actually talked to some of my friends far, far more than I ever would have had I still been living in the US, because I wouldn't have been online that much. But I was sitting at a desk most of the day with very little to do except stuff on my computer, and maybe it did keep me from studying Japanese and interacting with people as much as I'd originally intended, but I still think it kept me sane.

Then I came back to the US, I lived with a computer science geek who was telecommuting to work every day. We had a fabulously convenient wireless network. I could connect to the internet anywhere: the study, the living room, the bedroom, wherever. I spent hours and hours blogging, looking for teaching materials, reading the news, reading other people's blogs, emailing, IMing. I never actually just sat and watched TV, because I was always on the internet at the same time.

Now, though, I live by myself, and a wireless connection in an apartment with only one computer seems stupid. But the real effect is that I don't use my computer that often if it has to stay in one place. I got very, very used to being able to do other things while on the computer, so sitting down in front of just the computer to check email or blogs or whatever seems almost like a waste of time. Therefore, I just don't do it that much when I'm at home. I'm home much less than I used to be, as well, and I find that when I am home now, I spend most of that time reading books.

The bad thing is, though, that I feel like my personal worldview has shrunk. I used to be far more informed about the world in general. Now, I'm lucky if I notice and actually read a BBC article once a week or so, let alone Salon or anything else. Last year, I actively did very little, but thought and wrote a lot. This year, I'm doing what sometimes seems like too much and thinking too little. I need to find some kind of balance between doing and thinking. Interestingly, my time on the internet seems directly correlated to this. I want to see beyond my own life again. I want to feel like I'm actually aware.

I remember reading a short story somewhere about a man on a humanitarian mission to some tribe in the outback of Africa, intent on bringing those poor, backwards people into the information age by introducing them to the wealth of information available through the internet. None of the people had any questions, though, and eventually he started to question why he had ever thought the internet was so important, why he had had such a need to know the answers to every little question that popped into his head all the time. He thought he was going crazy, but the villagers just nodded and said they'd help him through the withdrawal the same way they'd helped his predecessors. He needed to recover from internet addiction.

While I certainly don't really regret my totally random web searches for inconsequential things, I do miss the interesting tidbits I would pick up and then later find to be relevant. I miss feeling like I actually was able to look beyond my life, my job, my classes, the US. I don't think I was addicted to the internet, but I know it certainly used to play a much bigger part in my life, and I do think that part was mostly beneficial. Maybe I'll find some way to recapture that part.

Today brings a new month, new snow, and hopefully a new leaf.

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