Web Crazy

It isn’t the first time this topic has been addressed and it surely won’t be the last: our need to unplug, worry over our teens tied to technology, the “addictive” properties of social media, and the deleterious effects on our relationships and mental health.

But is the web really capable of driving us crazy – even temporarily so? If that’s the case for certain individuals, might there be a predisposition to obsessing over something? Is the rush of instant gratification in Internet communication, if prolonged and intense, really sufficient to transform into an irresistible force?

Last week, The Daily Beast offered its tale of Jason Russell’s breakdown which played out on a variety of viral media, exploring the concept that the Internet can make us crazy. Well, some of us, though surely extraordinary stress and extreme sleep deprivation played their parts in this particular story.

So I find myself on the fence when it comes to the crazy-making accusations around any set of technologies.

Then again, is this really a technology story or a human one? Is it more than the story of any individual?

And I’m singing a familiar tune: We’re busy looking at symptoms of social ills – and they’re staggering and devastating, so we do so with good reason – yet we aren’t rooting around in the underlying causes and attacking them with more vigor. We apply band-aids rather than eradicating disease – and by that I mean social disease, social malaise, social instability that lies at the heart (or heartlessness) of our nation.

Healthy Heart

A slight digression, if you will allow. In my morning reading, I also came across an article on Huffington Post referring to the health care plans enjoyed by our elected officials in Washington. This wasn’t news to me, but I’ll mention it nonetheless. Basically, the plan consists of health care for life with no restrictions on pre-existing conditions.

Now tell me. If it makes sense for our government to have health care for life (regardless of job changes, job tenure, or the fact of getting sick as we all may), doesn’t it stand to reason that every citizen of this country ought to have the same? Doesn’t it make sense to have as “healthy” a population as possible?

To me, this is common sense. To me, the fact that we don’t all benefit from the same right is crazy-making nonsense.

Social Media does not = Social Illness

We know that millions remain below the poverty line, millions remain unemployed or underemployed, millions have lost homes and savings, boomers are divorcing at record rates and also, apparently, this generation of 50+ adults is suffering from record rates of substance abuse. That factoid was documented in another Huffington Post article I came across (thanks to social media).

Which brings us back to the social media issue – to our Twitter feeds and Facebook updates, to the devices we bring with us in our pockets and backpacks and beach bags. Even as we socialize (or vacation) we’re peeking, we’re checking in, we’re carrying on multiple conversations simultaneously and we’re relieved to find that those conversations persist. And when they dip into a lull, some of us feel distraught, un”liked” or set adrift.

Why will these tendencies become compulsive for some of us and not for others? Wouldn’t the same reasons come into play if we were talking about alcohol or prescription drugs or emotional eating, just as examples? Reasons like a sense of disconnection from our families, instability in our employment, fear over money, over aging, over our health and health care access, worries over any number of things that have to do with basics – people to love and who love us, people we can count on, values we still recognize?

I Text, Therefore I Am

Despite my measure of skepticism on the crazy-making properties of the Internet, the data can be compelling. Statistics on texting alone, according to The Daily Beast article, are more prevalent and more alarming than some of us realize:

… texting has become like blinking: the average person, regardless of age, sends or receives about 400 texts a month, four times the 2007 number. The average teen processes an astounding 3,700 texts a month, double the 2007 figure. And more than two thirds of these normal, everyday cyborgs…  report feeling their phone vibrate when in fact nothing is happening. Researchers call it “phantom-vibration syndrome.”

I admit, I’ve never suffered from Phantom Vibration Syndrome, but my social media connections – texts included – are a regular part of every day.

Will Social Media Really Drive Us Crazy?

Returning to the starting premise – that the Internet (and more specifically, social media) may have the power to make us crazy – I remain unconvinced.

I learn a tremendous amount on the Internet – and that is constantly satisfying.

I connect to communities 24/7 via social media, and at times over difficult years, that has been a virtual life saver.

I find much to gain, to admire, to rely on, and to expedite via social media. I also recognize that I check certain feeds and messages at times I shouldn’t, justifying that it is “work,” and further justifying that if I don’t work I don’t get paid.

And without money? As for any of us, what follows may be credit cards to cover groceries, utilities, and more; growing debt, growing stress, legitimate concerns about survival; sleepless nights, careless eating habits, a lessening of attentiveness to what maintains physical and mental health.

Must I go on?

Social Symptoms, Bountiful Band-Aids

All those stops along the way (downward) are valid – and symptomatic of a country that is struggling with basics and common sense, with isolation, fear, rampant worry.

Of course we need to address the pain and alleviate it! Of course we need to deal with issues of addiction and destructive behavior of all sorts. Of course our challenges are massive and complicated, but isn’t it those underlying challenges that we must give voice to? Isn’t our malaise and subsequent acting out the result of ignoring the very human side of our society’s ills, and dealing with it?

As for social media, I often think I should unplug more often, though my reality is that I make my living in part via the web. But I must also use every ounce of maturity and judgment to set limits and abide by them.

And no, it isn’t easy.

 

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Comments

  1. I think my life has slowed down because of the internet. I could be on it all day if I wanted but I try and limit myself so that I get outside my house:) But it is so easy to communicate and get caught up on news. Also, because I am basically retired I can be on it as much as I want but even I find it too consuming at times. Fresh air and a walk still beats the internet. Great article as always, BLW.

  2. I love texting. LOVE it. Maybe because I am severely allergic to the phone (as it is supposed to be used)?

    I find Twitter exhausting. I want to like it, but I don’t. Why is that, do you suppose?

    Somehow, of all addictions, I think you could do a lot worse than being a social media addict.

  3. Maybe one reason Jason Russell had a psychotic break had to do with his lack of sleep coupled with his Internet use that week. Sleep deprivation can cause serious health problems, including psychosis.

    Why are things that used to be habits (repeated behaviors) now addictions? What happened to common sense (why do we have to keep asking that question?)?

    I text when I need to, but not excessively. I love texting as a way to communicate. I don’t spend much time on the phone or Facebook. I am never on Twitter – I don’t get it. I do check e-mail, use the Internet for research, and interact with the blogging community. Social media definitely has its benefits.

    Everything in moderation. Anything and everything has the potential for abuse.

    Web Crazy – great title!

    • BigLittleWolf says:

      I’m a big fan of Twitter, for very specific usage. (I find it more “functional” than social, which I like, though there are different ways to use it.)

  4. I find the benefits of social media outweigh the negatives, too. We’ve been traveling and I use my smartphone to get me where i need to go, I google such random things as, “what are the fields of water on the west side of Sacramento?” as we passed.
    Rice, I was told. Who knew? Which was followed by several paragraphs on how rice is cultivated and farmed and how much is produced in CA and where its exported. The information came from a travel blogger. We have a virtual encyclopedia at our fingertips, even as we move down the highway. And that’s just a tiny slice, I know.

    I find Twitter exhausting too. Don’t get to it. I’m lucky to keep up with FB.

    But a Phantom Vibration System? Whaaat? Now that sounds nice on many levels…….

    • BigLittleWolf says:

      Ah Barb. The “keeping up” issue. That is exhausting – if we feel we have to keep up! (It takes the enjoyment out of it.)

  5. It is like “everything” else that can be “addicting” and we must therefore be extra diligent with the “moderation”
    In France the media is talking about a study conducted which shows that people who sit more than 6 hours a day have a lifespan that is shortened by 20% , that’s almost a “quarter”! Reason enough to live a balanced “unconnected/unstressed” lifestyle, at least some of the time…
    Great article/food for thought :)

  6. It’s a brave new world. I watched the video in your linked article by Tony Dokoupil and couldn’t help thinking that the Internet seems to make us think that people or children caught up in fads, compulsive obsessive behaviours or anti-social behaviours is something new. I work in the computer field. My job involves working with computers all day long. It is my primary form of communication both for business and in my personal life. Add on top of that my blogging, researching, reading and online TV viewing, and the computer more than the telephone, radio and television combined is my link to the world. Jason Russell going bonkers is an unusual case and not one I would connect to the use of the Internet. Something else was definitely wrong there. Correlation does imply causation. (Of course, you may be justified in debating whether or not I’m bonkers but that’s for another discussion.)

    45 years ago in the hippie era, parents were more than a little concerned about fads, drugs, and anti-social behaviours. There was no Internet. Are the concerns that much different today than back then? Everyone is still striving for that ideal: an open and honest dialogue with one’s kids. Heck, can we even have an open and honest dialogue with other adults? Ha ha. Don’t forget to vote in November. I’m sure you’ll make the right choice… You’re going to vote for him!?! OMG!!! How could you!?!

  7. I don’t really care how much time you spend online or texting, but if I see one more social gathering where two or more people are more engaged in their phone fondling then in actually making eye contact and verbalizing thoughts, I may just lose it. (is that social media making me crazy?)

  8. I struggle with this. But we’ve learned from having a teenage daughter in our house. Oh, those poor boys of mine. We will be putting heavy restrictions on social media/texting and cell phone usage. Unfortunately, also from experience, I know that teens are pretty good at getting around parental restriction since they are so tech-savvy. Sigh.

  9. Recently I realized our dependence on media tools. We were at a Yo-Yo Ma concert and during intermission, a pool of cell phone lights flickered on at the same time. Instead of really absorbing the moment and the music, people directed their interest toward technology.

    • BigLittleWolf says:

      That’s an amazing example, Rudri. (I was reading something earlier this evening on the Atlantic about the dopamine rush we get from these interactions, and the very real need to unplug for periods of time to lessen our dependence.)

  10. Jason Russel’s breakdown seems to have had more to do with the sudden frenzy of renown than the Internet per se, which was merely the conduit. That said, everyone in my house seems happier when disconnected. Call me a Luddite, I think of the I-net as a necessary evil.

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