June 15, 2014

Admit It: We’re All Addicts

fun

Let me paint you a very normal picture of a lazy Sunday afternoon: We’re on the sofa, having a chill-out-slightly-hungover-day. I’m checking Twitter, tweeting random things I’ve found; boyfriend has got the football streaming on his iPhone; there’s also a movie playing on the TV that my boyfriend’s housemate is watching in the same room, and another friend on their laptop catching up on some other programme with headphones in, whilst checking a football app on his iPhone simultaneously as not to miss out on any live scores. We are all busying ourselves with separate things whilst also being together. We’re hanging out, and having a nice day, but in a way that is definitely tech-obsessed.

And of course none of this is abnormal. There is nothing strange about this in modern society where it’s now OK to check your phone at the dinner table (that used to be a big no-no in my house) or scan a list of potential future dates (aka Tinder) whilst watching TV and chatting to a friend. Nothing strange about the sea of people on the bus, tube, park (insert public area) all checking their phones next to each other. All looking down, transfixed on refreshing each and every app they have downloaded onto their phone which could be mistaken for a Siamese twin: our phones are now a part of us, and something that has risen to the level of addiction as the oxygen we need to survive daily. Internet withdrawal symptoms are a real thing, especially on holiday when there’s no WIFI code.

I read Arianna Huffington’s book Thrive on the plane to NYC last week and inside there is a statistic that says us millennials check our phones, on average, 150 times day. Binging away on content that we flick away and quickly “like”, lol at or loathe in a matter of seconds. Lingering on nothing for long enough to have any sort of deep connection. I hardly remember the stuff that I consume daily. I favourite it, to “read later” and end up skim-reading. We are absolutely over flowing with information and it’s almost too much to handle sometimes. I often think I need to remind myself that I cannot *possibly* be able to join with every conversation or read every single piece of important writing or tweet every hilarious tweet, it is 100% guaranteed that we WILL miss out on something. Something will pass us by, but actually, that’s OK.

This made me think about this in a less flippant “oh yeah, such Internet addicts, aren’t we!” and in a more serious sort of way. F*ck, I thought. We are ACTUALLY addicted. We are trapped. We are completely and utterly enslaved to technology. And the sad part is, I know I have been for years, since I first logged on to MSN when I was 12 years old. When I learnt how to hack into the school system to reinstall MySpace after they tried to ban it. When I first got my first phone. When I lay in bed texting everyone in my phone book every night until my eyes were sore. It was a drug. Even thinking back to my teen years of hanging out with friends, a lot of “hanging out” was centred around the computer. I was remisicing with my best friend the other night about it. A “sleepover” or an invitation “to come round to my house” would nearly always be an open invite to “come and sit at the computer so we can chat together on MSN/MySpace/chat rooms”. And we had loads of fun. But what a shift from doing outdoorsy things, to being hunched over a big machine. We were socialising, yes; but sat together, on a computer. It sounds weird but we were just like every other teenager, absolutely hooked on communicating with other teenagers.

Other addictions are frowned upon. We’re not quite there in frowning upon our technology lifestyle. We are all just giving into it, freely. If I were to tell you that as soon I opened my sleepy eyes I had a cigarette which I kept under my pillow*, with a lighter, would you judge me? Of course you would, because that’s a sign of an addiction. (And a bit gross). But sleeping with our phones under our pillows and firing up two email inboxes, five apps, and Whatsapping two friends without opening our eyes or adjusting our brains properly seems to be perfectly acceptable. In fact, in some ways it’s impressive, if you are shooting off emails before 7am on a work day. (*I don’t sleep with cigarettes under my pillow btw, don’t worry. I do with my iPhone though, and my laptop under my bed). I know that the radiation is probably penetrating me all through the night, but still, I don’t do anything about it. 

Bed-time procrastination is a proper thing too. It’s been scientifically proven that it’s make us feel like utter shit but loading and reloading our phones and refreshing our apps, even dead in the night when there is NOTHING happening. Then we wake up completely knackered from staring a screen. Because we are addicted.

Something that massively intrigued me recently was the No Internet Week” campaign created by agency Mother London. Lots of people were harping on about “digital downtime” as a buzzword but not really doing anything about it or had any results from actually logged off for an extensive period of time. All talk. Like “I’ll give up coffee next week”. Lies. But Katie MacKay, one of the participants who went a week without the Internet said she found full on positive effects:

“I felt a total transformation — not just in my mood, but more so in my awareness of my mood,” she said. “I suddenly felt much more aware of how I was interacting with people, and more aware of the slower pace of time, too.”

“I also slept better, and felt I had more time to think, relax and enjoy simpler things, like reading a book — all without the silent niggle to see what was happening online.”

I feel like this hamster wheel of Internet addiction can’t go on forever. But it’s not that I am dissing it, I love it. I have met and connected with amazing people through the Internet. I have a job working in social media which is a dream to me. I built my own community online and I love chatting away to people every day. But I do think that there must be a turning point one day soon. It’s getting too much. We’re getting irritable. It’s not a fun new novelty any more. One day soon I think we may all unanimously say:

Fuck the addiction. I want to be free. (But not right now).

 

  • You’re so right about the Siamese twin situation. I left my phone at home by accident this evening and felt bereft, kept reaching for it – like a phantom limb! I feel that with the advent of wearable phones on wrists the time will soon come when the phone or portable computing device will be built into the human body. Too far?

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