I Spend Too Much Time Online

The time I spend online increased significantly starting with the pandemic. Internet addiction, and more specifically social media addiction, is very common in today’s world. Hundreds of millions of people are addicted to the internet (https://www.businessinsider.com/420-million-people-are-addicted-to-the-internet-study-2014-12), and is similar to other more traditionally-known-about addictions (https://healthcare-digital.com/technology-and-ai/internet-addiction-same-drink-or-drug-dependency). Here are some side effects I’ve experienced from being online too much.

I’m angrier/more anxious. It’s easy to get swept away learning about everything terrible going on in the world and constantly exposing yourself to it. It’s one thing to stay up on the news and be aware of what’s going on around you. It’s another to never give yourself a break from the constant news cycle.

I have a much shorter attention span. With so much available at my fingertips, I have a much harder time watching an entire movie or video until the end. It has also affected my ability to calm down enough to read for enjoyment — something I’ve loved doing ever since I learned how to read, in kindergarten.

My days feel way shorter. Wasting so much time online, your day gets away from you more easily. You realize you’ve hardly gotten anything productive accomplished by the time you turn off the light to go to sleep.

I’m more tired. Lying around makes me more tired than if I were active during the day. And science backs this up. I wake up tired, stay tired all day, and go to bed tired. I put off chores and avoid going outside. I almost never feel refreshed.

Even though I’m constantly tired, I experience insomnia. My increased internet usage coincided with bad insomnia. There have been nights I haven’t gone to sleep at all. Taking sleeping meds, which can have bad side effects themselves, often do not help, or I find myself waking up in the middle of the night wide awake.

I live in the past/future instead of the present. The nostalgia I find via the internet makes me grieve for the past. Negative, scary news makes me fear the future. None of it is good for my mental health.

I notice that often I excuse my internet use by saying it’s educational — I’m watching a documentary or researching a topic I didn’t know about before. But really, that’s just an excuse. I know I’d be better off just not being online in the first place and spending my time on moe meaningful pursuits. In reality, it serves as a distraction from all my problems. And that’s why I abuse it.

I am considering doing one of those 30-day cleanses where you abstain from the internet for anything not work or school related or otherwise necessary. Maybe I’d make an exception for a movie or documentary, as long as I watch it ’til the end. One thing is for sure — I’d have a lot of extra time to fill and get a lot of reading done.

The Internet is Radicalizing Us

As a kid of the 90’s, I often heard the adults around me (especially relatives) discussing politics and often not agreeing with each other on every single point. They were still able to respect each other and be together without hard feelings. Thanksgiving was tense. Attitude polarization, where group members’ attitudes tend to become more radical after speaking with likeminded people about the issue, and group polarization, where groups tend to become more radical in response to the specific inclinations of their members, are two related effects that can often be seen today. The ultimate goal, whether conscious or not, is groupthink, where the group thinks as a whole in order not to allow for any critical or skeptical voices. Logic and facts are often discarded if they do not line up with the group’s belief systems. Belief in conspiracy theories are common.

One example are incels. Men have always chased women and seen it as a boon or bruise to their ego depending upon women’s responses to them. There is nothing new about this, and a much lighter attitude used to be taken about the matter, with many romcoms being made about the subject. However, the incel movement, begun and strengthened online, is something much more sinister. Men who feel they have not gotten the attention from women they deserve claim they are “involuntarily celibate” and as a result, resentment towards women has grown. Where in the past, a man might have sought to improve himself in order to appeal to the opposite sex, the narrative has been changed to one that bashes and dehumanizes women. There have even been violent attacks carried out by those who proudly wear the “incel” title.

Another example are my parents, lifelong conservative Republicans. They have never been anti-vax. I got all of my vaccines growing up. And vaccines were not considered controversial (other than by a very few on the fringes), or even as political in nature. Vaccines save lives. We got vaccinated. No more thought than that was put into the issue. However, with the rise of Trump and anti-science rhetoric in general, my parents (my dad being a physician) have both decried the Covid shot. My mom, who already is in ill health, has decided to forgo getting it at all. She spends a lot of time on Facebook and follows many conservative pages and has many conservative “friends” posting anti-vax propaganda for her to read. In a different, earlier life she would have rejected all of it and chalked them up to being crazies. In this new world, where even adults are now subject to peer pressure via the internet and where anything in typed form is inherently imbued with legitimacy, the lines are much blurrier. Facts have been reduced to opinions, which can be rejected by will, and opinions have risen to the position facts used to hold.

Although I realize the two-party system is not ideal, I remember a time when there were only small differences between Democrats and Republicans. Unfortunately, those days are long past. Now each seems to have more radicalized fringes, and those fringes seem to be much more heavily populated. Bipartisanship is never the goal anymore, with those who even mention it being seen as soft and vacillatory.

Even I have been the victim (participant?) of radicalization. I find it harder and more uncomfortable than ever to teeter between two extremes or even to recognize extremes. I have to constantly question myself. Does this make sense? Is it backed by facts and logic, or simply emotion? Do I really believe this, or do I just want to feel completely aligned with those who do? If I stop believing this or start believing something different, am I scared I will lose something or somebody?