Internet addiction: It may not be a thing, but we’re not exactly making it easy for ourselves either

 

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Source: Death to the Stock Photo

 

(Found this in my archive. Not sure if I posted this here before, or anywhere else, but if I didn’t – here you go.

 

(Also, I’ve moved my art to Tumblr. Come give me a follow and get updates on sales and new products.)

Wherever I turn to these days, either reading about social media culture or participating in it, the words “Internet Addiction” get thrown around more often than peanuts in a party. And I’m fed up with it.

And I’m fed up with it.
Let’s set aside mainstream media and its tendency to sensationalise events for the sake of getting more views. Let’s also set aside that relative who just discovered online messaging boards (there is one for every family) and must tell you about this friend of a friend whose daughter or son had to go to the hospital because they couldn’t stop texting and developed insomnia. Let’s talk instead about the difference between habit and addiction, and dealing with the pressure to post if you’re not really a social media person.

First things first, the word “addiction” can be used in not one, but three ways (source: https://www.psychologytoday.com/basics/addiction) – biological addiction, which is what happens when the body becomes dependent on something (usually drugs or alcohol); psychological addiction, where there is not physical need for the drugs or alcohol, but you still feel a draw to them; and then there’s compulsive behaviour, whereas you turn to the drugs or alcohol (or gambling) as a means of coping with stressors in your life. (If you want a more descriptive account, I highly recommend Marian Keyes’ “Rachel’s Holiday”. It’s also a great book to procrastinate with during exam period.)

When talking about “Internet addiction”, the feeling that I get from other people is that they mean the kind of compulsive, mindless browsing that we’re all prone to doing when we’re bored, stressed, procrastinating, (or, in my case, haven’t had our first coffee of the day and daaaaaaaaaamn, roomie, how long are you going to hog the kitchen for?) That… doesn’t sound like addiction. It sounds like a habit.

And while we can use ‘habit’ to describe drug-related behaviour, isn’t necessarily the same thing as full-on addiction.

My own social media habit reached its peak around September-time when I read a lot of Jaron Lanier and danah boyd and compulsively read articles on, ironically, “Spending Less Time on the Internet.” As any good acolyte of well-being culture, I eventually understood the message my subconscious was sending, and I acknowledged it by disabling my Twitter and Facebook accounts.

How did that go?

Well, I did NOT experience withdrawal symptoms, and while I was slightly more bored with myself than I was previously (perils of doing a Ph.D.) I eventually got around that. If anything, not being on social media helped me let go of some anxieties I had about my “friends” there, and how I felt obligated to maintain the connection, even if they were not good for me.

And then, about two months later, I got right back on it.

Not for any epic reason, mind you – but my sports team was gearing up to go to a competition, and Facebook was where the organising happened. I had to be there, or else I’d be left out of the loop completely. I eventually worked up the courage to sever any ties with people I didn’t like, but it took a while, and it was hard.

Which brings me to my final point: even if Internet/social media addiction isn’t a thing (in the most literal sense of the word) we are collectively acting like there is no other way. It’s convenient, and hey, it works for so many of us, so why change a good thing? Why waste time to prove the alarmists wrong? Luddites gonna Luddite, amirite?
Fair enough.

If it works for you, it works for you. If it’s good for your group, it’s good for your group. I’m not going to bore you with the politics of social media and the economics of Facebook because quite frankly, Jaron Lanier was there first and I’m out of space for recapping his arguments. And I know that for every frustrated person looking for better connections online, there is a socially anxious one who has a strong network precisely thanks to the Internet; or, there is someone struggling with disease, addiction, or trauma, who finds solace in anonymous support. Everyone’s experience is valid, and you do what works for you.

However, not everyone is a social media person, just like not everyone is a cat person, or a sports person. If we have come to accept that not everyone likes cats, can we not make some allowances for people who don’t enjoy the Internet in the same way we do?  (Of course, these days, it might be worth calling dibs on your name, just in case… more on that in another blogpost, but let’s just say, a digital trust fund isn’t just for newborns anymore.)

If you are not happy with your social media usage, if you think it’s a waste of time, if you’re uncomfortable with the pressure to upload and share and revisit old memories, if you’re sick of native advertising and 10-point lists of “how-to-become-less-anxious”, if you get unbelievably angry with people claiming all Millennials have an “Internet addiction”, here is an experiment for you:

Don’t get off the social networks. But try to get together outside of them more. Meet your bestie from home for coffee next time you’re in town. Don’t tweet or share pics immediately from your night out/social/really boring lecture, but let them sit on your phone for a few days and then pick out the ones that you wouldn’t mind seeing again. Go through your contacts and block/hide/delete the people you really don’t see yourself talking with at all, and whose posts have been irritating you for months. Don’t use Facebook to organise study groups. Try to make more face-to-face meetings. (Unless the matter can really be resolved in an email or text message.) Write longer emails. Ask questions. Listen to the answers.

Call dibs on your name on the big platforms and make your acconts private just in case. You can always go back and do some selective sharing if you’re worried employers might be looking at it.
But. Most importantly, stay curious. Figure out what works for you and for your friends. Don’t feel pressured to join every hot new platform because that’s where all the professionals hang out, or you think it will impact your chances of getting a job/placement/summer internship. There are other ways. There are always other ways.

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