Today, the Internet grants us access to vast amounts of information, whenever we want, wherever we want. However with this access, come constant distractions and interruptions, which may have a bigger negative impact on us than we think. But just the idea of sitting down and contemplating the effects of the Internet on us has become near impossible. Thus by abstaining from all types of mass media, which include:
1) Broadcast Media: film, television, radio, and recorded music
2) Digital Media: computer, mobile, iPad, gaming consoles, and
3) Print Media: newspapers, magazines, books, and comics
4) Outdoor Media: billboards and posters,
for 24 hours, and then re-immersing myself back into my media-filled life, I was able to evaluate and understand the extent of impact the Internet has had on my life. This essay will look into how the Internet has changed the way our brains’ function, the fear of missing out, and whether or not there is too much advertisement.
RESTRICTED BY OUR OWN INVENTIONS
On Saturday 19th of April, I cooked breakfast, walked the dogs, exercised, and went for swim with my friends. This was the first and last time I did any of these activities during my Easter Break. If it weren’t for the media fast, I would have probably just be watching television and eating junk food all day long. And the strange thing is I would be watching TV not for the sake of entertainment but just to pass the time.
While doing all these activities, I always wanted to use ‘Google’. We as a society have become extremely dependent on it that we no longer commit to storing information nor do we remember the skills we have just learned (Carr, 2010). We started using Google, and the Internet as a whole, as secondary storage for our brains, and anything that we think isn’t essential to our survival gets stored on the World Wide Web. For instance every time I cook an egg, I have to Google it, because my brain doesn’t need to store that information, if I can just look it up in mere seconds. And because Google is right at our fingertips, we use it to answer every question that comes to our minds. I later found out that4, I did an average of 76-101 searches each day in the month of April.
Moreover, for the past few years, I’ve been spending a lot of time online, searching and surfing the web consuming terabytes of information and also adding to the database of the Internet. In 1960, media theorist Marshall McLuhan pointed out that media does not only supply the stuff of thought but also shapes the process of thought (Carr, 2008). It appears that my excessive use of the Internet has actually chipped away my capacity to concentrate and contemplate.
By being constantly distracted by emails, texts, television, social networks, and notifications, we understand less than those who are able to concentrate (Carr, 2010). I used to go to the library to avoid distractions, but now I have to carry with me my computer, which is also my biggest distraction. It seems like there is no way to avoid distractions, except than turning everything and just locking them in the drawer.
While the Internet has restored reading and writing as central activities in our culture, it has also changed how we read and write completely (Shirky, 2010). Most of the reading and writing I do now, is 140 character status updates on Twitter and short comments on numerous websites; and if I read an article it would be probably be about celebrity culture or about a new show that is coming out.
When we read online, Wolf says, we tend to become “mere decoders of information.” Our ability to interpret text, and making rich mental connections when we read deeply and without distraction, remains largely disengaged (Carr, 2008). As we use the tools that extend our mental rather than our physical capacities—we inevitably begin to take on the qualities of those technologies.
I remember a time when I used to be so focused when reading that even if someone screamed my name I wasn’t able to hear him or her. I used to immerse myself in the story for hours, and be unaware of my surroundings. However things have changed, now my concentration starts to drift after three to four pages, and I have to go back and read it all over again because I realize that after the first page I was just reading the text and not absorbing any of the information.
Furthermore, I used to finish reading a novel in a couple of days, now it would take me a couple of months to finish the same novel, as I am only able to read a small number of pages each day. Even when reading articles for this course. I lose interest very quickly and I just feel the urge to open a new tab and just read something else. I keep moving from one thing to the next, just reading a few lines in each. And it’s not because I don’t want to read it completely, but because I lost the ability to do it; the way I think and read has changed completely. More so, my family and I are not able to watch an hour and half movie in one sitting. It may take up to three days just to watch one film and rewinding it several times as we have become more and more forgetful.
I used to have a shelves filled with books that I’ve read; but now I have an iPad filled with eBooks that I’ve never read and probably won’t ever read. I keep on downloading more and more books because it is really simple and easy, but putting the effort to reading them is getting more and more difficult.
One of the main reasons for this, is that there is so much media to consume, that I’m not sure what to read and what not to. This doesn’t only apply to just books, but also movies, videos, music, applications, and even pictures. You don’t want to be the only person in the group who hasn’t seen the latest episode of Game of Thrones or the person who doesn’t know about the viral gif that everyone is talking about. So what I, and we in general, tend to do is consume as much media as impossible. And we do so through multitasking.
Another reason is that we keep doing many tasks at the same time. By doing so we are less creative and less productive, as we disperse our concentration on several things rather than focusing on a single task at a time. I always have this strong compulsion to multitask. For example, I can’t just sit and watch television; I also have to have my computer on my lap while simultaneously playing a game on my phone. It has gotten so out of control that even when I’m in the shower, there has to be a podcast or music playing. Hence what made the media fasting even more relaxing is that for the first time in a long time, I was able to do something and enjoy it for what it is.
FOMO (Fear Of Missing Out)
This takes me to the next point that is, how stressful we get by using the Internet and particularly social media. Surveys have shown that people on social media have more stressful life (Dick, 2013). The main reason for that is that we compare ourselves with others and then feel despair. Social media provides an endless amount of ways to compare yourself with friends and others; we compare the number of friends we have on Facebook, the number of likes we get on Instagram, the number of retweets we get on Twitter, etc. It acts as a constant reminder that there is always someone out there that is better than us.
The day of the media fast I went for a swim with my friends, but the next day when I saw someone posting a picture of him in the pool I got so jealous; I kept thinking I should have taken a photo and posted it. Since then, I stopped checking Instagram and I even deleted SnapChat, and I would do the same for Facebook if it weren’t for university work. I felt it was just too stressful and I never got any joy from it. However, the decision to stop using these social networks wasn’t easy. By deciding to quit these social networks, I lost some form of contact with my friends. How will I know what is going on in their lives and visa versa?
The fear of missing out has been recognized as a genuine psychological disorder caused by the advancement of technology and the increase in the number of choices available to individuals (Kelner, 2013). I’m not able to enjoy what is in front of me, because I feel like something better and more exciting is happening elsewhere. While envy is nothing new, now it’s much harder to keep up with others, when they’re sharing pictures and tweets of everything they’re doing, which makes you feel inferior and insecure.
You could, of course, disconnect from the Internet, but that would be like withdrawing from real life. Having a Wi-Fi connection has become an essential part of our lives; we need it 24/7. You can no longer go to a restaurant and enjoy a meal, you have to take a picture of what you’re eating and share it on every social network you can.
Whilst I was always afraid of missing out, what I learned from the media fast was actually that because of social media I was missing out of my own life. I wouldn’t have done any of things I did during the media fast if I was allowed to use the Internet. Why would I enjoy the beautiful weather outside, if I can play angry birds on my phone? So although the Internet did not make us dumber, it definitely made us lazier. For instance, the only reason I don’t sit outside in the garden is because the sun would reflect on my iPad and I won’t be able to see anything.
Not only have we gotten lazier but we also lost the ability to contemplate and mentally entertain ourselves. Research has shown that college students start panicking after just a few minutes in a room without their phones or a computer (Konnikova, 2013). I’m not even able to walk to the classroom without having my headphones on. I have my headphones on all day long, that my family immediately noticed them missing on the day of the detox.
FOMO is actually depriving us from existing in the present and taking pleasure in the here and now (Kelner, 2013). The detox made me question what I was missing out on. Instagram posts of celebrities on the beach? Status updates of last night’s party? By missing out on these, I actually had the opportunity to enjoy some quality time with family and friends. We had dinner without the TV being on; we went for a swim without getting out of the water every half hour to check our phones; and we had conversations that lasted more than a couple of minutes.
YOU CAN RUN, BUT YOU CAN’T HIDE
We see an average of 3500 adverts everyday (Lawson, 2012). We are being constantly being bombarded with messages both direct and subliminally from the moment we wake up till we’re asleep. And while we can choose to watch TV or not, we have no freedom to walk down the street without being ‘attacked’ by advertisements in every direction. I never really appreciated living in a quite town like Lancaster, until I spent a week in London. The amount of advertisements there, were just horrendous. “Even in the most unlikely locations we may now see an ad for some product or other (Swann, 2011).” After going on the tube my immediate reaction was ‘What’s going on? There is so much advertising.’ It was just over the top, everywhere you looked there was an advertisement, there were ads on the ground, the ceiling, and even in the bathroom.
You can’t escape the adverts. Even if you decide to stop using mass media, you will still be bombarded with adverts when you walk down the street, get on a bus. I’m not saying stop advertising completely, after all I am majoring in Marketing, but just limit it. I don’t think advertising has changed the way I view the world or the way I think; the only thing it did was convince me to make certain purchases and that’s what it is meant to do. It’s just that we have become numb to it. Advertising just lost its influence with all the clutter. London has lost its beauty, when all you could see are the yellow arches of McDonalds and the deep red of Coca-Cola. By reducing the number of outdoor ads, our minds would have a bit more space for ideas, plans, or just to daydream (Lawson, 2012).
If there is one thing I learned from this experience is that the Internet has a negative impact on the way I think and live. I find it really interesting that every time someone brought up the topic that I spend too much time on the internet, I would respond with “So what? It’s not like it’s harming anyone.” And if it weren’t for the media detox I wouldn’t have noticed that I have a much shorter attention span than before, that I’m actually not able to concentrate on a single task, or the fact that social media is causing me more stress than pleasure.
I think it is time for us to put down the devices, and just look up.
Carr, N., 2008. Is Google Making Us Stupid? [Online] Available at: http://www.theatlantic.com/magazine/archive/2008/07/is-google-making-us-stupid/306868/ [Accessed 2014].
Carr, N., 2010. Does the Internet Make You Dumber? [Online] Available at: http://online.wsj.com/news/articles/SB10001424052748704025304575284981644790098 [Accessed 2014].
Dick, J., 2013. Why Do Social Networks Increase Stress? [Online] Available at: http://www.huffingtonpost.com/john-dick/social-networks-and-stress_b_3534170.html [Accessed 2014].
Kelner, S., 2013. Is FOMO depriving us of our ability to exist in the present and take pleasure in the here and now? [Online] Available at: http://www.independent.co.uk/voices/comment/is-fomo-depriving-us-of-our-ability-to-exist-in-the-present-and-take-pleasure-in-the-here-and-now-8449677.html [Accessed 2014].
Konnikova, M., 2013. HOW FACEBOOK MAKES US UNHAPPY. [Online] Available at: http://www.newyorker.com/online/blogs/elements/2013/09/the-real-reason-facebook-makes-us-unhappy.html [Accessed 2014].
Lawson, N., 2012. Ban outdoor advertising. [Online] Available at: http://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2012/apr/20/ban-outdoor-advertising [Accessed 2014].
Swann, A., 2011. Suffering: The New Ad Medium. [Online] Available at: http://www.forbes.com/sites/gyro/2011/09/21/suffering-the-new-ad-medium/ [Accessed 2014].
Shirky, C., 2010. Does the Internet Make You Smarter? [Online] Available at: http://online.wsj.com/news/articles/SB10001424052748704025304575284973472694334 [Accessed 2014].