I don’t remember much about life before the internet revolution. I was definitely there; it’s the everyday details that are hazy. How did I book train tickets? How did I learn new things? Socialise? Find answers? It’s hard to imagine life without the internet now.
Instead I have memories of Saturday evenings spent with Mr Blobby and Cilla Black, and I can still dance the whole routine of PJ and Duncan’s Let’s Get Ready to Rumble.
With access to almost any piece of information they need, you can’t blame previous generations for thinking that Millenials have it easy; but do they really? Can 24/7 online access cause more harm than good? Through its various mediums – be it gaming, social networking, instant messaging, video calling etc – the internet has proven to be a massive source of distraction and procrastination.
It’s only natural for humans to use every tool at their disposal to better their existence. With its connectedness and sheer vastness of information, the internet is a tool that can help us achieve our biggest goals when used correctly: Lifelong learners earn degrees online. Soul-mates have fallen in love from opposite sides of the planet. Entrepreneurs have founded game changing companies such as PayPal who completely altered how we buy and sell. Political movements for social justice are ongoing around the world and are fuelled by our online connectivity. We’re the first human’s to experience this dimension of communication and it’s overwhelmingly exciting, but there is a downside.
Whether or not internet addiction is a real is still being debated by psychologists. Either way the evidence from studies shows that extended internet usage can change the way we think and behave.
In this video from Big Think, technology writer, Nicholas Carr describes how the internet is changing our neural pathways; strengthening areas of the brain that make us more productive internet users, whilst weakening other areas, such as the ability to pay attention. It can even affect how memory works.
One of the internet’s greatest pulls is that it’s an excellent boredom buster. Now that everyone has a media centre in their pocket, there’s no reason to ever be bored again. But what if boredom is good for us? In this (surprisingly fascinating, given the subject matter) Smithsonian blog post, Linda Rodriguez McRobbie explains why boredom is one of a range of necessary emotions that helps to guide the human mind. Maybe we’d benefit from listening to the boredom instead of browsing it away.
There are tons of people who’ve attempted to give up social media, smartphones and even the whole internet, documenting their experience along the way. All with varying levels of success.
Paul Miller of online publication, The Verge chose to go offline for a year when he decided his internet usage was preventing him from living a productive life. In his conclusion he addresses how offline living forced him open up: “It’s the boredom and lack of stimulation that drives me to do things I really care about, like writing and spending time with others.”
Back in June, The Guardian asked a group of volunteers to attempt a similar challenge and report back with their experiences. Many participants experienced depression, anxiety and isolation, but even so, most said they were more able to focus on school work, with some teens saying time offline made them feel more optimistic about life.
By looking at the above examples we find that the internet isn’t bad for us, but rather it’s the individual’s relationship with it that will determine how well they survive in those offline moments. Like so many things in life, balance is key.
If us addicts can find a way to use the web to our advantage (and not just to binge-watch PewDiePie videos and drunk-troll celebs on Twitter… not that I’d ever do a thing like that of course) we might just accomplish something great.
In the meantime, if you have a few minutes to kill then check out musical YouTubers, AVByte performing their song ‘The Internet is Down’.