I wish there was a support group where it was ok to simply stand up and say this, but I live in a connected, always on world. My gripe would rarely be taken seriously. It may sound flippant, but the internet and my incessant usage of the technology is damaging to my sense of self and well-being, so much so that I have decided to do something about it. I’m significantly curtailing my use of the offending technology.
Curtail is the important word. I can’t quit, I work as a copywriter and social networking manager for an online retailer called The Watch Hut, and so my work life is impossible without the internet. Most people use things at work that they might not use at home and at least I’m being paid for my efforts there. The problem begins when I get home and i instantly turn on the internet and begin to surf.
To understand where my addiction comes from I need to go way back. Cable TV arrived in the UK in the early 1990’s. I was then at secondary school. My family were one of the first to get the service. At first, it simply diversified the choice of what we had to watch, rather than increasing the amount of time I watched. But then I got the service in my bedroom and like many a stroppy teenager I was hooked. I’m very curious about the world around me so news and documentaries became the things I watched. The seeds of my addiction were sown.
I first used the Internet in early 1994 when I started college and I began to spend a lot of time in the computer lab. I taught myself HTML and built very basic websites for a friend’s band.
When I started university I got myself a PC and modem for home. I had unlimited off peak dial-up through that educational institution. I then got fully unlimited dial up and eventually followed the path to broadband. The always-on world had reached me.
As I got older and moved out of my parent’s home, I took my surfing habits with me. However, the time I knew it had got too much was last month.
I brought a new PC (I live alone and have 3 PC’s and assorted mobile devices) I brought a new PC to play Sim City 5 as my old system wasn’t up to the job. I installed it in my living room, intending to use it as an entertainment hub as well as a gaming machine. I quickly realised that 1920 x 1080 resolution screens were not easy to read at typical TV viewing distance, so I bought a second monitor for my coffee table. It worked well, too well. I felt myself being sucked in to the game. As my interest waned, the monitor remained. Now though it was pandering to my old needs as a source of web searches on news, Wikipedia and YouTube clips.
My life whilst still outwardly the same had now changed to coming home and staring at short video clips or short text based articles. Having a slight geeky side the forums of Digitalspy also lured me in. I was barely watching anything that existed in a long form and if I did it was done in parallel with the web surfing.
My concentration began to suffer at work as I effectively had no down time. Out with friends I was forever checking Facebook statuses or looking up things to fact check what I was about to say. It had to end sometime. It all came crashing down about a week ago.
I was walking home from my job selling watches, but I just didn’t feel as though the world around me was really there. The only way I can describe the feeling was as if I was looking out from behind a mask of some kind. There seemed to be a distance between what my eyes were seeing and my cognitive processing of what was around me. This continued as I walked home. About halfway through my 30 minute walk the feeling started to dissipate and I felt more like my old self. I reached home and turned on the PC and the feeling came back. It was clear that it was connected.
So, that how I came to be an internet addict. But how have I responded?
I’m trying to wean myself off; I’ve unplugged that second monitor. I’ve started to watch long-form TV again, including the excellent Broadchurch detective series. I’m reading magazines and the broadsheet newspapers; I’m listening to music (occasionally in the form of a Spotify playlist.)
I’m also listening (actually listening instead of using them as background noise) to podcasts. I’m cooking more often and I’m going for walks to clear my head. I moved my Skype conversations to my phone so I’m not tied to a screen, and I have also limited my use of that device for other random surfing. I still do it, but as with other addictions, cold turkey is hard to do.
It’s not perfect by any stretch of the imagination. I’m still spending too much time looking at screens. But at least now these are not so energy sapping. I’m getting up earlier in the mornings and finding I have more energy as a result of not being quite so sedentary and glued to the displays. I’ve done my ironing, I’ve found time to tidy my garden (I always had the time, but sinking into my screen based world was easier) I’m also finding my concentration span to have massively improved and I’m taking an interest in the world in a way I hadn’t for some time.
My top tip, if you turn the PC on the second you get in, or you have a tablet or mobile phone in your hand constantly whilst at home, then you have a problem. As to the internet, keep the services and use the sites you actually need, but ditch the random surfing. You will feel better.