by: Joshua Isaacson
Packed in my overnight bag for my visit to my hometown for 4th of July was my goal for the week: four books. You know, those weird stacks of paper that have words on them and are held together at one side. Books, good old fashioned books. My goal was to finish at least 3 of the 4 books during my “vacation” from my life in Minneapolis. I shall refer to this trip back home as a “vacation” because in a sense I was taking a break from something that I didn’t realize had such a hold on me until it was removed from my everyday grasp.
The Internet. I had no access to Facebook, Twitter, Skype, Diablo, Spotify, nothing, for a whole week. I will admit that I checked Facebook a few times on my phone which wasn’t really any better because it gets awful service at my mom’s house.
Let me just rewind for a brief moment to set the stage of what exactly my hometown is like. Corn fields as far as the eye can see, population of 600 people (with the closest town being 5 miles away with a similarly meager 1200 people). The thing that I honestly do enjoy about being back at my mom’s house is being able to see my favorite thing: stars. Every night I could just walk down the block and take a country highway walk into darkness and enjoy the stars and whatever music I decided to bring with me (on my walk it was Coheed and Cambria if you were wondering). That wonderful balance of exclusion from the modern world and the amazing beauty of nature at its finest. I still love that about going home.
Back to the point now. I knew that I was not going to have internet access at my moms house the whole time I was there but I decided to take my computer with me anyways. The screen never left the keyboard. I had not one inkling or desire to even try and get internet. I had some books to read. After reading one particularly eye-opening book (called The Shallows by Nicholas Carr), I suddenly realized the vast hold that the internet has on me, whether I believed it or not. The Shallows illustrates very precisely, even down to what area of the brain, how the internet is slowly changing the way that humans think and interact. The fact that I was able to sit down for 3 out of the 5 days that I was home and just read for hours on end is a feat in itself these days. With all kinds of clickable links and moving images and all kinds of distractions on every page, it is no wonder that people can not just sit down and read a book anymore. That little tidbit of information made me really rethink the way I interact with the Wonderful World Wide Web.
Another thing that The Shallows brings to light is the just the simple goal that the internet essentially wants to make books obsolete. I don’t know about any of you out there but that is something that upset me and made me disgusted at the same time. TS points to many experiments that have been conducted between learning via an online hypertext format and through a traditional paper method, and the studies showed that traditional paper method wins out over hypertext in the areas of comprehension and ability to remember. Basically, people who “read” things online remember less of what they read than people who read things in a paper and ink mode.
These may just be fun little experiments that have been conducted by research psychologists and their colleagues, but it was kind of insane how much of myself I could see in all of the topics that Carr spoke about. Lessening of short-term memory? Check. Not comprehending things I’ve read online? Check. Easily distracted and can not focus on something for very long? Check. It seemed as if this book was tailored specifically to my interactions with the Web. Coming face to face with the actual facts of what the internet is doing to me (and us as a society) has really brought about a change in the rules that I will follow from now on in terms of internet use.
1. Only check Facebook once a day and only for 15 minutes.
There is no estimate of how many hours I have mindlessly wasted scrolling through status updates from people I barely know. Refreshing every couple of seconds to make sure I see if anything else has been posted (maybe I could be the first person to “like” someones hilarious picture of a cat trying to set the time on a digital clock). Nothing intellectually stimulating keeps me captivated on Facebook, hence my limiting it to only 15 minutes a day. If you need me I’ll be in the real world, and you can give me a call from now on.
2. Stop checking email at every single moment.
I am not a huge email person to begin with so just because it is a convenient app on my computer does not mean that I need to be hitting the “check for new messages” button every 2 minutes.
3. Limit overall internet use to, at the most, two hours a day.
If I haven’t found something fantastically engrossing within a matter of minutes I am logging off and picking up a book or going for a walk or doing something other than straining my eyes in front of my computer.
4. Print all reading material from the internet on to real paper.
No longer will I be trying to read 10 articles at once in their online format. I have a very hard time reading anything I find on the internet because I find myself too damn distracted by everything else thats going on that I just give up the fight and go back to Facebook (see the vicious circle that starts). If I find something of interest I will be emailing it to myself to get printed off at the library or school or whatever. Hard copies for me from now on.
So, is this a “I hate the internet” post, you ask? Absolutely not. I think the internet is great and peachy and all those nice things. However, personally, I do not want to become more inattentive, forgetful, and just all around disheveled mentally because of it.
I encourage everyone to take a second to think about their relationship to the internet, and your smart phone, and your tablet. If it were, to put it in a relatable fashion, a relationship status on Facebook, what would you be with it? Single? In a relationship? Married? Divorced? Its complicated? Addicted? Engrossed? The list could go on and on. Take a few hours and disconnect yourself, it doesn’t hurt, its free, and its actually quite refreshing. Pick up a book, see for yourself, maybe you can’t endure a session of “deep reading” anymore like the majority of people.
Joshua Isaacson is a Psychology major in Minneapolis who wants to research LGBT psychological development and the causes and affects of homophobia on the mind. Joshua is also a volunteer for the Trevor Project, a Diablo III addict, an avid reader, a big music junkie and loves some salty goodness.