Saturday, January 07, 2012

Online Compulsive Disorder

"The phenomenon that people become uneasy and restless when they are not online."

Think about it, how much of your life nowadays revolves around being on the internet in some way other? Waiting for the next status update from somebody you hardly know? Waiting for an email which you immediately pounce upon, as if it were the solution to something life-threatening? Perhaps waiting for a message from someone, just so you can be reminded that you exist and that you are at least important to somebody.

While many of us know not to open letters from banks or ex-partners’ lawyers when we arrive home tired after a hard day's work, it doesn't occur to us not to apply the same principle to e-mail or social media. When travelling, when trains or planes have arrived at their destinations, BlackBerrys and mobiles are fired up almost as fast as a cigarette and laptops open for a new shot of internet bliss. For some reason there's a kind of light panic involved in the possibility that an email, Twitter update or Facebook status might be missed or not reacted upon quickly enough, for whatever reason.

I like social media. I like social media... too much. I like social media so much that I try to refrain from using them whenever possible nowadays. They're quick, easy and so damned time-consuming, it's just not funny any more. At the moment, when I'm trying to do some serious writing or want to work out a photo project, one of the first things I need to do is close everything off which might possibly distract me. Facebook for starters, then Twitter, then email, followed by Yahoo Messenger and Skype. Finally I'm down to the bare bones, depending on what I'm doing I'll be thumping away on my word processor, Blogger or Lightroom.

It's extraordinary though, how little I actually do miss the fuss and noise of my social media after a while of concentrated activity though. When I'm writing or engaged in a new photo project, I usually work for three quarters of an hour straight and then give myself fifteen minutes break. Two things happen then, I can go get myself something to eat and drink or do a quick bit of housework, or I could get any or all Social Media back within reach in the shortest time possible. It's usually the first, but from experience I've noticed that the temptation, the subtle attraction, to sink back into the Facebook trap or satisfy the desperate need to read all the latest Twitter updates, can be overwhelming at moments. Which nowadays usually means that my Social Media (SM) curfew lasts longer than I'd occasionally prefer.

Experience shows that my fifteen minutes break could balloon out into a thirty, forty or sixty minute variation, depending what's going on and what's most "important" for me at that moment. After that, the remorse follows about time frittered away and the total lack of result in the intervening time, in the same way an addict will berate him-/herself and make (almost unkeepable) promises not to do it again.

For many people social media has become a form of validation, to shout out something, anything, to anybody who might be willing to listen. For some it's a way of escaping the loneliness of a perceived empty life, for others a way of bolstering damaged self-esteem, for others again a form of distraction so that lingering and fundamental issues in life can be avoided or deflected. Social media, as with any tool or activity, are extremely useful in moderation but aren't an end in themselves. They are tools for connection to an outside world which has become too large to easily embrace, which in effect perpetuates and exacerbates the isolation one might find oneself in.

Humans exist in social groups, which seem to function best in reasonably closed, direct settings. The further out the connection, the less direct importance it will have on your daily doings. To my mind, time is better spent maintaining the links to members of the immediate community, to achieve common goals which directly affect them all. Perhaps this is the old anarchist in me playing up again, I see little value in a social consciousness which is stretched out beyond the local setting, into a provincial, national or global realm which ultimately is of little relevance to us on an immediate basis.

This subject isn't closed for me by any means. Just the fact that I'm blogging this is a slight contradiction in what I'm saying, so let's just say the topic is still a work in progress. Would you like to share with me how your online life intersects with your daily life, and the pitfalls/pleasures it brings with it?

Enjoy your day, make it a worthwhile one. Keep well...


  1. oops, too many of your paragraphs could have been said about me...including the 45:15 minutes system of working, spending 45 on real job and the remaining 15 on household chores, personal maintenance (eating/drinking/other), OR social media.
    but almost anytime i venture into the facebook, or blogosphere, i can hardly resist the pull to make that 'last click' to read/see something else - as if i missed anything by not connecting/clicking.

  2. i have no experience with twitter. i have been involved in quite an interesting relationship via skype, and currently i am on facebook.

    compared to these medium, and strangely enough, blogging has become a truly relaxing and thought provoking surface.
    while facebook is quick and one feels a rush to stay connected (for what, for god's sake, but it is a trap!), it's quite different within the blogosphere.
    the blogs i read give me thoughts.
    they make me think.
    about what the blogger wrote and about how it is related to my my life, my experience.
    regardless of their content, these blogs i read inspire me in a positive way.

    facebooking spins me like coffein (i don't drink coffee, it is just a simile...), gives you a sort of adrenalin-rush, that will not last long and you will crave for another shot quite soon.
    blogging is like a sort of healthy, sort of nutritive drink.
    you don't drink it all the time, because it does have substance.

  3. Thanks for your input here SzélsőFa, you raise some interesting points and reflections.

    There's a particular addictive quality to social media which is quite fascinating, since I'm familiar with addictions from other angles as well. You describe it well, the "rush" associated with people paying attention to you, the dip which occurs afterwards after the high moment has past and the craving for new ways to find validation and a new moment of "intoxication".

    Part of my theory is, as you also alluded to in your second comment, that we live in a society which is addicted to quick fixes and instant gratification, we often lurch from one high to the next and feel insecure and unhappy in the moments in between. Also, and this links back to my post a few days ago, is that the things that are ultimately worthwhile need time to grow and develop in order to maintain their usefulness. Instant attempts at solutions are usually just as instantly gone, leaving no really discernable legacy afterwards besides often a whole lot of crap needing cleaning up.