People spend a lot of time online.
We’ve got the numbers. Two billion people are spending thirty five billion hours online monthly. That’s around sixteen hours a month online per person or thirty two hours for the average American, and what does mean for a sense of time that is both increasingly fast and static? Entertainment, information consumption, and communicating with others are on the top of the list for things that people use the Internet for. Shopping, banking and television are now more efficient then ever, leaving us more time to socialize and have fun. Twenty one percent of time is still spent searching, because of the massive bank of information which is the internet. Why is a fifth of time online spent looking for something online? Is it fair to say that the incredible speed and variation of the Internet leaves us many possibilities and alternatives for what we want to do with ourselves in our lives overall? That as technology grows, we can reach more and more of our dreams and desires, even ones we didn’t expect before? Is this way of searching for self so different then the past ways of doing so, which forced us to interact with others directly in order to find ourselves, instead of a network where we can gain the benefits of others without their direct influence? It seems that we are getting lonely despite all of the time we are spending socializing online. What does this mean for us as people who existing in an Internet influenced world, which is only going to be more and more technologically influenced? What is the impact of the time we spend, and how can it be used to increase our own health and well being?
It’s me, Mario!
Before I start using others, I’ll use myself. One of my proudest achievements of my adult life was buying a Nintendo Wii, with my own money, and beating Super Mario Galaxy in one extended session. It was a few days after New Years, I was going to NYU for my MSW and I decided that I deserved a break. I prepared ceremoniously, plugging in the new game system into my sixty inch television, pulling up a comfortable chair ridiculously close, and locking the door to my room. I had not played a video game for at least a year, and I needed to break my fast. Somewhere between eight to ten hours later, as the sun was rising, I stood up from the chair which I had not moved from both satisfied and tired. The world was saved and I beat the game.
As the video says, though, ” For the end of it all, Gamers play what we play, not for GAME OVER, but rather for what we take away!“
The take away from using technology…
What is it that we take away from not only games, but from the technology that we coexist with while we are using it? What happens when game over isn’t the end of our relationship with a game or technology? The video above ends with “Though you’re more along for the ride!” What actually happens if you don’t like the ride and still can’t get off? What does that actually feel like, and what do people need in that situation? For me, playing that all night long game marathon, there was incredible release. After a year of intense emotional turmoil, mostly because I was working as an intern in drug and alcohol detox and commuting four hour round trips to Manhattan to spend twelve hour shifts at graduate school, plus weekends of babysitting my infant niece, I needed a chance to blow off some steam. My story is mine, and plenty of people post their experiences of the impact of technology on their lives. Some are looking for solutions to problems with dealing with technology. Some people make their own solutions to the impact of technology on their lives. Some people are just tortured by the impact of technology on their lives.
Sharing WlSDOM about the impact of spending time online
Let’s take an extended look at the last link, as the Reddit user WlSDOM (That’s a lower case L, not an I) has very much given us one of the possible narratives of someone who is spending to much time online. In his own words – WlSDOM –
I’m 18 years of age. And I’ve been suffering from internet addiction since I got my first computer when I was 12. I cannot stop going on. I have tried everything from banning websites (using software, router settings or hosts file), to turning off the router completely, to literally breaking the router as well. I just can’t stop. I’ve been using the internet on an average of 5 hours a day, on weekends it can go up to 6-14 hours a day. Time just flies. It’s become so habitual and ingrained in my mind that I literally cannot stop going on, and when I try to not go on, the temptation becomes so strong that I will find anyway possible to be connected. I’m in need of help. This is my 3rd week of university, and I’m already falling behind because of this addiction. It has cost me my relationship with my family, especially my siblings, made me develop social anxiety, it is one of the contributing factors to my depression, and it has made me develop extreme myopia (I went from having 20/20 vision when I was 12 to be being unable to see anything without glasses; my lenses are extremely thick now)
It started from playing online games, to watching YouTube videos, to socializing, and now it’s become my whole life. I do everything on the internet and simply never turn it off. Everything revolves around the internet for me. I believe this addiction is ruining my life. I have tried so many things to quit, but I simply don’t have the discipline to quit. Literally for the past 6-9 months of my life, I have thought about quitting 3-4 times a week, but I never have.
I’ve been trying to abstain from using the computer/internet altogether, but I can’t get away from it, since all the lecture slides/textbook PDFs that I need are there, so I can’t do my studying without it, and therefore I become too tempted to surf or do something else. I just want to be able to overcome the addiction completely, and then be able to start using the computer/internet moderately and with control.
This is one of the hardest obstacles that I have ever tried to overcome in my life, it is literally like battling drug addiction for me.
I am here because I have no where else to go. I have tried everything, I need to get rid of this addiction right now!
Any help, advice, links, anecdotes, are needed and appreciated.
tl;dr: i am addicted to the internet, have tried everything to quit, it is ruining my life (failing studies, not socializing, becoming unhealthy, etc)
I feel your pain, brother. I’d rather not admit it, but this very well could have been me at his age.
There are a number of observations in his opening post which give us clues into the experience that one has in the moment of what the experience of being online too much is, and what impact that has on their lives.
WlSDOM describes a sense of not having free will in relation to his internet use, and describes a number of social, physical and mental ills created by the relationship that he places on the experience of not having choice in regards to his computer use. He even tells us – “failing studies, not socializing, becoming unhealthy” as a list of attributes he puts to his lack of free will and choice about this use of technology in his lived experience of self.
Depression and the Phenomenology of Free Will
Matthew Ratcliffe, Professor of Philosophy at Durham University , writes about the phenomenology of self in relation to depression and it’s lived experience as a lack of free will. In his paper Depression and the Phenomenology of Free Will Ratcliffe writes-
” Depression, I suggest, can involve what we might call a diminished experience of free will . Although it is often assumed that we have such an experience, it is far from clear what it consists of. I argue that this lack of clarity is symptomatic of looking in the wrong place. Drawing on themes in Sartre‟s Being and Nothingness, I propose that the sense of freedom associated with action is not – first and foremost – an episodic “quale‟ or “feeling‟ that is experienced as internal to the agent. Rather, it is embedded in the experienced world; my freedom appears in the guise of my surroundings. This makes better sense of what people with depression consistently describe: a diminished ability to act that is inextricable from a transformation of the experienced world.” ( Pg 1)
While I won’t be so quick to call WlSDOMs experience as one of only depression, it’s interesting to me that he specifically notes his inability to actively control his world, particularly his relationship to the technology itself that he uses, that leads him to experiencing overwhelm and pain. His main strategy for self expression at the point that he wrote this post was one of using the technology, which he altered, broke and attempted to control, and yet still found ways to continue using after the fact. He even goes to tell us of the familial and social woes he has had due to his inability to imagine a different experience with technology. WlSDOMs life seems to be growing more distant from purposefulness and closer to being tortured with every log on or minute spent online and in front of a screen.
Further in his paper Ratcliffe goes onto discuss how depression impacts a person’s experience of existing in a world where possibilities exist, and that they essentially don’t experience a certain time, the future, in their interpretations of self and their lived experiences. They also seem to be stuck in an eternal present in their depression, and can’t imagine leaving that time.
“In the most extreme case, because the world incorporates no sense of possibilities for action by oneself or others, it also incorporates no sense of the potential for significant change. The predicament that one finds oneself in thus seems timeless and inescapable it incorporates the sense that “this is all there is or could be‟. In other cases, the sense that the possibilities still exist for others but not for oneself constitutes a sense of being alienated, cut off from the social world, imprisoned.” (pg 17)
Is technology’s impact on time inherently depressing?
If the sense of self we have in depression is of no potential for significant change, and that we are in a sense timeless and inescapable from our experience, how different is that from the technological reality that we have created with the Internet and technology today? Rushkoff makes a point to create the idea of Presentism, that we in fact are being drawn into an ever more complex technological mandate for our time and energy. Is it the natural progression of technology? I sure hope not. Tragically, many people experience this snowballing impact of technology in their social and physical lives, and it impacts their ability to experience happiness and satisfaction. From later posts made by WlSDOM, we find that he actually came to the same realization later himself about the massively multiplayer games he would play as well –
“MMOs aren’t inherently bad in and of themselves, but they are so addicting that for many people it becomes a major problem. MMO addiction has the potentiality of ruining relationships, promoting a lifestyle of laziness and may lead to academic failure. However I would say anything used in excess is not good for you, not just MMOs. Browsing reddit for 5+ hours a day is not good for you. Watching YouTube videos for 5+ hours a day is not good for you. Surfing mindlessly on the internet is not good for you.
The fact of the matter is, our habits are shit, they suck and they impact our lives in a negative way. I say this as a person who is trying to trying to overcome his internet addiction. People laugh at me when I say I have a problem controlling my time on the internet and it’s embarrassing to admit, but the same people who laugh at me for admitting my addiction, feel it’s perfectly normal for a person to be connected to Facebook, Instagram and Twitter all day, to share their whole life to these social networks and to be obsessed with what the people on these social networks are thinking and doing.”
Many therapists could look at the evolution of this type of thought from someone who at first was questioning their role with technology, and now is exploring the ethical and cultural norms we have with technology. WlSDOM even discusses potentially seeing a psychiatrist in a later post –
“Yup my G.P realized this also and has made an appointment with a psychiatrist to come up with an official diagnosis.”
In earlier writing I explored Jeffery Arnett’s ideas of Emerging Adulthood, a new stage of development that eighteen to thirty year olds have to live through in order to exist in technologically advanced societies. How is it that we see this through WlSDOMs posts and his moving away from the narrative of being overwhelmed by his technology use to looking for solutions in his life issues? With further research, I found that he discussed issues including his beliefs into height in culture, masturbation, atheism and numerous other issues related to his development and growth as an individual. WlSDOM even makes this loving and compassionate post on a thread which was for suicidal individuals who need support –
“I know I’m gonna be hated for this but I’m gonna say this anyway. I would say pray and seek God (not to a specific God, but to God in general, he will reveal to you who he is later). If you truly have nothing to left in this life, then I believe you have reached a point where you can seek God with an earnestness that is as strong as an ox. Pray that he can show you who he is, and if you seek this with all your heart and if you truly want this, he will reveal himself to you. This has nothing to do with theology or a specific religion, this is about having true experiences of God.
I am a former atheist-agnostic, and I have also been suffering from depression and a deep nihilism about life. I feel that life has no meaning whatsoever in the end, and that everything is ultimately meaningless, and thus can understand some of the things you are feeling.
If you don’t believe in the god for logical, scientific or for a lack of evidence then ask for faith or the trust to believe. Just try it, I promise you, that you WILL not be disappointed, because if your heart truly desires to know God, who is in essence the source of all meaning, then you will find it.
I don’t care if I will be called out for this. But no amount of therapy or medication can cure a deeply faulty worldview, because the way in which we view the world on a faulty worldview provide a very warped perspective on the world, that lead us into depression, hopelessness and despair.
So seek and you will find my friend, you have nothing to lose.”
Technology and the transition to modern adulthood
What is it about the experience of pain that this Reddit user has had that allows him to move forward into Adulthood in modernity? How about his becoming more knowledgeable about his perceptions and view of the world, at least by reflecting on the fact that it was at first focused through a screen, has to tell us about the future of socialization and people’s self expressions? He explores new roles for himself, becomes a regular poster on some communities, and even continues to support others regularly –
“That”s great! Good luck and keep going. We can do this brah”
There is a great irony in the time we spend online. It’s becoming the norm for us to spend more and more time communicating with others via the internet, which is creating social problems and overwhelm for many people. Something that makes certain things so much easier to do, is making other things harder at the same time. The complexity and speed of technology is becoming as much of a disadvantage as it is an advantage, and I think it’s because there is incredible meaning in doing some things slowly and socially. At the same time, we can’t overlook the impressive number of people who turn their potentially disastrous online time into productive parts of their lives. WlSDOM does this by communicating about how unproductive his time is and then making changes in his life in relation to the time he spends with others online. He better understands his needs and refocuses his intention on meeting them. He finds communities of individuals that spend their internet time together, instead of hopelessly stuck in a lonely present tense. They plan to grow and evolve, and plan for futures that are different then their present, and share their experiences of moving towards that future. It seems that once Internet use becomes a actual social experience, it changes what it does for us in all our aspects of life.
Emerging from technological depression as leading to the new future of adulthood
If Ratcliffe’s observations and interpretations of depression are true, how far off from a forced depression is Rushkoffs Presentism capitalistic model that the internet has found itself in? At the same time, when people humanly connect, and communicate their needs, how much can be garnered and developed through the technology that is the internet? We saw from the info graphic I linked in the intro that the Internet speeds up our pedantic daily activities so we can spend more time searching and having fun, why can’t that also speed up our own search for ourselves as well? What else are we going to do with all of our new free time? Especially for the freshly minted, new adults. As many phenomenological thinkers seem to agree with, we are the time we spend online, so why can’t we speed up our growth and development as well? Is this what the theory of Emerging into Adulthood is becoming in the new modernity of the Internet?
Due to the fact that we continue to have increasingly significant relationships with technology, the question is beginning to evolve past “Will we spend time online?” to “How will we spend our time online and how does it impact us?”. This may become the new normal of what we have to explore in terms of the technological impact on our lives. As social norms and expectations move ever more towards technological prowess and connection, what will this mean for how we learn to use the tools we have available, and how it will impact our sense of time and self? As I’ve said before, time will tell. And hopefully, in the future, so will you.