As the snow melted and the water began to trickle through the crevices this Easter, I could feel it running out of me. The stress of winter which had been created by dark days and nights of sitting in front of my computer squeezing in as much as possible now began to subside as the light season of outdoor play returned. To encourage this process, I decided that I would live for several days without connecting to the Internet (I pray that the Editor of The Local will forgive me). During all of the time that I have used the Internet – say, the past couple of decades – I had never felt that need but more recently my mind and body began to show clear signs of requiring a break.
It wasn’t that I lived without a computer. Rather, I continued writing my contracted book each day. The difference is that I didn’t hook up to the Internet. This leap into the unknown was encouraged by the fact that I am in the mountains where you have to stand on the right mountain to get your mobile broadband to work. I guess I am standing on it so that I can post this blog entry, but the slowness of doing almost anything on the Internet up here eased the decision to break with it for a few days.
As usual when you give yourself some space and time, perspectives which can lead to change and personal growth emerge. The conclusion I came to during these Internet-free days was that the web is one of the greatest anomalies of all time. It is at once the most important contribution to the wellbeing of all people AND the greatest threat to the wellbeing of all people. The sharing of knowledge and information not only for survival but a better standard of living is unparalleled. Lives have been saved because of the Internet. At the same time, the threat it poses to the physical and mental health of active users is an issue that we have brushed over until now but that we are going to have to face quick smart.
Over the years, I’ve dipped my toes into the rather thin and highly-polarized debate about the effects of Internet use on our minds and bodies. Some argue that since the means by which we access and use the Internet are developing so quickly, it is hard to say what effects it is having. Others, in particular those who are in touch with what happens to children and teenagers as they interact with the Internet (see my previous blog entry about Facebook and youngsters), conclude that clear limitations need to be placed on our Internet use if it is truly going to be of any use to us. Some researchers have even concluded that either we are all going to suffer from some form of ADHD or our brains are going to have to evolve to handle the bombardment of stimuli that the Internet delivers. In a few decades there won’t be anyone to award the Nobel Prize to, one researcher argued, since no one will have the focusing capacity that is required of a Nobel Laureate.
Personally, I think this is a bit extreme. This is not the first time that the devil has been painted on the wall when it comes to new technology. At the same time, I see a need for a new discipline around Internet use which we might have to formalize as education. People are burning out, running into walls, starting to look like the Hunchback of Notre Dame and becoming overweight because they don’t know how to control their relationship to bytes. Up here in the mountains during the spring it feels easy to let go of the Internet for a few days and then return to it with greater judgement. However, it’s back in the everyday of our working world where e-mails and urls surround us that we might need help to get a grip.
For further interesting discussion and links about the Internet and us see my blog entry The worst predictions don’t come true. If you’ve got any interesting information on health and the Internet please do share!