Every now and then I decide to briefly try going on somewhat of a web-detox regiment. Not for any deep reasons, I just feel that my web usage occasionally reaches a critically high point. Mind you, I can’t just cut the ethernet cable to my Wi-Fi completely, because the sheer prevalence of online services in managing my daily chores is too great to allow for that sort of liberty (I still have to check my emails daily in order to pay my bills). But, to my surprise, when put to the test these necessary online duties take me under 15 minutes to complete from log on to log off. This was surprising to me, considering I’ve previously been known to spend hours on end staring at my laptop screen. My excuse for raking up these net overtime hours was always that I’m doing something productive (reading fancy-pants articles, and whatnot), in addition to pursuing leisurely activities like online games and YouTube. But in reality, I was just trying to find excuses to continue staying online for any reason whatsoever. The internet just has this way of making me feel as if all the important things that occur in life revolve around this omnipresent series of tubes that place the world at our fingertips.
Just about everyone reading this will probably have little trouble understanding the initial stages of withdrawal I experienced throughout the last week, and how I craved for that psychedelic high that comes with navigating from one site to another (picking up bits and pieces of information from dozens of different sources, at record speed). But I don’t want to fall into the trap of sounding overly melodramatic about what should really be a mild nuisance. Yet, it is a moderately noticeable form of mild annoyance, in that even now that I have broken my semi-netfree fast, I feel a sense of hesitation about resuming my previous web surfing habits. Almost as if, now that the routine has been broken, I fear falling back into it again. The fact that this is having an affect in making me question what would normally be my usual course of action, makes me think that some kind of–even if only in the most superficial recesses of my mind–psychological dependency has been severed. And I’m left with these undefined reservations about reestablishing the normal mode of operation again.
Despite the fact that so much of my personal and professional life incorporates online services, the reality is that the dominance of the virtual world we create for ourselves on the internet, is largely illusory. The all-encompassing presence I am (and I imagine many of you are, too) keen on attributing to websites, forums, online groups, blogs, is very much a self-maintained delusion, sustained by the fact that cyberspace allows us to do something meatspace doesn’t: transcend social limitations and decorum.
In the four days of my net abstinence, I saw how tediously slow information in the real world operates. This makes the speediness and efficiency of online data a very attractive alternative (ironically, however, the lack of easily available distractions made whatever task I was doing also go by much quicker). Furthermore, I saw how unaware a great deal of people are about internet culture and memes (and not just to the elderly), even though I always considered these things to be fairly widespread in popular culture. The jokes, the tweets, the web-dramas, and multitude of online communities, don’t have much of an existence outside of their cyber confines (either that, or people simply feel stupid referencing them in person). But the primary difference I took notice of was the general way people communicated with one another.
Whether you believe me or not, I make it a habit to write on this blog in the same manner and diction I do in my daily life. Now, of course the blog format allows me to correct the occasional grammar mistake, and rephrase poorly articulated statements to better convey my opinions, but the basic tone expressed is the same as it would be if you were sitting across the table from me (just with less “ums” and awkward pauses mid-sentence as I fumble over my words). However, when I see some of the more blunt and vitriolic comments left online, I find myself wondering just how many of these individuals would be equally daring with their choice of insults in a face-to-face conversation. In person, even more confrontational personalities remain for the most part reserved when they are facing possible opposition in thought from a second party. There is a level of empathy and solidarity in play; even if you hate the person speaking to you, it’s difficulty not to humanize someone whose face is right in front of you.
When forced to interact in person, most people have somewhat of a filter that prevents a lot of faux pas and breaches in social etiquette from leaking through. Online, where the person you are interacting with is nothing more than a far-off abstraction of typed words, this filter is virtually discarded in favor of apathetic aloofness (see what I did there with “virtually”, ’cause we’re talking about “virtual” reality; try to keep up with my linguistic subtleties nOObs). And the tiny personal transgression we are willing to overlook in the fellow human being seated across from us is thrown aside when that human being is reduced to nothing more than a screen. I imagine it’s too much like having an internal monologue (where anything goes) that we forget there are actual people reading our diatribes.
This brings me to the core realization that hit me this week: the internet is essentially imaginary. Not in the sense of being nonexistent, but in the sense of it mirroring our impulsive inner ramblings. Hence, it’s no surprise that it can deliver such a satisfying high to our psyche, since it practically serves as a reflection of our deepest thoughts. This isn’t necessarily a bad thing, but I think I’ll try to limit my daily dose and remember that there is a space, outside of cyberspace. On which real life hinges.