Imagine it’s the year 1800 and you wanted to share a political idea with the public. How would you do so? You would gather enough funds to publish a pamphlet that you would distribute in social clubs or other gathering centers. You would only be able to do this if you were of means or had financial backing.
Things are different today. With a basic internet connection that can be obtained for free or at trivial cost, you can use one of many online platforms such as WordPress, Twitter, Tumblr, and Facebook to publish ideas and thoughts. While the cost of publishing a second pamphlet is near the same as the first, the cost of publishing a second blog post or Twitter update is zero. The internet has solved the cost barrier to idea distribution where a larger percentage of the population can share ideas that has the potential to reach people throughout the world. This ability, upon closer inspection, is actually causing us harm. We would all better off limiting our internet usage than expanding it further.
An Unlimited Potential Supply Of Information
Because the cost of sharing is zero, we now have a drastically increased supply of information that is being shared. Someone today who would have never published a pamphlet in the past now has published 1,000 Facebook status updates, 10,000 Twitter updates, and 50 Tumblr entries. He even wrote one Tumblr post about how stupid horses are that went “viral” among horse riders and got him receiving 250 comments in one day. Such a diatribe against horses would not have been published in the past by someone who didn’t know horses, but now there is a mechanism for creating, finding, and sharing such inconsequential content that can emotionally affect those who read them.
The content you read now has moved from being primarily intellectual from the time of the Gutenberg press to primarily emotional. In the past, it was just too expensive to publish something with the intent to piss someone off or to gather lulz. Like with the first viral article in history (Martin Luther’s 95 Theses), you went through the hurdle and cost of publishing to educate or effect change. Only with the the beginnings of yellow journalism in the late 19th century did you start to see a shift towards more emotional offerings that would enrich publishers and advertisers at the expense of public discourse.
Fast forward to today. We’re bombarded with poorly written and braindead pieces of content that are engineered to go viral for the sake of virality, not to educate and improve the individual or society. Thousands of media outlets, professional bloggers, and vacuous attention whores and dumping an unfathomable amount of content onto the internet every day, playing the numbers game in the hopes that they will get clicks. There used to be a dearth of reading material for humans but now there is too much, and we are wasting time on content that we shouldn’t just to be entertained, just to feel a little emotional rush that we may not be getting through our normal lives. Consider that people now purposefully read content they hate just to stir their emotions. They do this as part of their daily routine.
Enter The Validation Machine
The scenario I painted gets even worse when you add to it the validation machine that the internet offers. If you published 5,000 copies of a pamphlet, how would you know that your message reached the masses? You would receive letters and individuals would make a call to your dwelling or office to discuss what you wrote. But today, the response can be instant and massive. A witty tweet you publish right now can have replies coming in within seconds. A basic photo you upload on Facebook or Instagram can have likes pouring it from your admirers. A blog post you wrote can have comments and shares within an hour or two. You can even check traffic to your blog live with Google Analytics, as it happens.
Since it’s never certain how your content will be received, every time you hit Submit you pull the handle on the slot machine. Will this tweet hit the jackpot and get more than 100 retweets, maybe even from someone famous? Will this blog post receive more than 50,000 page views? For human beings, this sort of randomized personal validation rivals the strength of any narcotic drug. You begin sharing not to share information, but to receive attention. In other words, if we were no longer allowed to know how our content was received (in effect throwing it from airplanes onto the masses below), the amount of internet content shared would plummet. User-generated content would fade. Even people who share silly comments on blogs do so in the hopes of getting replies and upvotes.
There is also the addiction to sharing itself, which rivals the addiction to receiving attention. It used to be the case that you would read an article, think about it, and then move on with your day. But now, before your brain has even processed the contents, you’re blasting it on your social networks. Raise your hand if you’ve shared something you haven’t completely read. My hand is up. We monitor how often our share was re-shared in the hopes that our social worth goes up, all from a mediocre article that was likely a list post with images or animated gifs. We peruse the internet not to find information we need, but to share information we think others will like so that we feel good about ourselves.
The internet has become a machine to fill gaps in your ego and self-esteem so that you receive the emotional benefits of validation. This occurs through compulsive checking of responses to your content and shares in the hope of receiving a neurotransmitter release in your brain so that you can transcend the feeling of living life like a standard issue modern sheep, something the majority of human beings will never escape. Any emotional response you receive gives you both purpose and distraction to your stale and monotonous life.
How I Responded To My Growing Internet Addiction
At the start of this year, when I had a temporary lull in work, I found myself engaged in a loop of checking email, Twitter, Facebook, blogs, and so on. Even though it had been less than an hour since I last checked my email, I checked it again, and again, hoping for something new. I dropped a tweet and checked five minutes later to see if there was a response. I engaged this behavior without thought. More severely, I had trouble stopping. Hours of my day would go by without accomplishing anything but this validation loop. I like to think of myself as a productive individual who has put out a decent amount of work, so I wondered if I couldn’t stop myself from this addiction, how could my little brother? How can young guys coming up in life resist it?
I don’t think they can, because Twitter, Facebook, and sites like it are engineered like drugs. When you log into Twitter, the first thing you see is a metric of your worth (number of followers), which you hope to see increase. You are also prompted with a box that urges you to share not an intellectual or useful piece of information, but crap. You share crap and then read other people’s crap, retweeting the crap you think your followers will like. Once your crap is retweeted and replied, you receive a fleeting shot of dopamine. But that dies down quickly so you need to check for more content. You stumble on an article that enrages you, even though it’s similar to the crap you shared last week, and then share that too. It’s a neverending cycle of sharing crap and reading crap that other people are sharing directly to you, hoping that you will spread their crap far and wide.
In Instagram the race is to share crappy photos. On Facebook the race is to share both crappy photos and thoughts (double crap!). More than 99% of blog postings on the internet are crap. Even in my Twitter feed, where I followed less than 100 men, I was being exposed to mostly mediocre content that was re-hashed crap. Everyone is sharing crap to get personal validation, so when I noticed the other month that I had shared 11,000 tweets of crap, I felt ashamed. By far, most of the tweets I shared were news stories meant to emotionally arouse men, offering them little in the way of personal development, because such development is hard and takes years, but getting a soma boost from reading about the latest feminist antics is sweet like candy and requires nothing but a few minutes of your time.
I can only imagine how tired our brains get because of the roller coaster we put it through when browsing through the internet. When you look at the tremendous popularity of Vine and Buzzfeed, which use facile images, videos, and ideas to entertain its audiences, you can see how the internet is nothing more than interactive television. For those of you who used it in its early days, when it was just mostly text, I’m sure you will agree with me that the internet has turned into something grotesque. Only through strenuous amounts of self-control and constant vigilance can you escape its negative effects to use it as it was intended—a tool for knowledge, education, and communication—not a means of feeling important or better about yourself. I have challenged myself to exhibit self-control by making some changes.
— I only check my email once a day, just like I would check postal mail once a day. If I have to read an old email or send a new one, I do not look at the fresh emails waiting for me.
— I will share value through my blog that I believe helps human beings. I will avoid publishing emotional clickbait that feeds my ego or wanting to be popular. I will not anger men unnecessarily.
— I will use Twitter and Facebook as functional tools to promote my work, not as a way to get instant attention that releases brain neurotransmitters.
— I will not go hunting for content. Instead, I will use RSS feeds to only read a small list of trusted blogs. I will resist articles that are being widely shared, because its value will most likely lie in the emotional than the intellectual. A truly intellectual piece should by its nature not appeal to a larger audience.
— I will not use the internet on my smartphone unless it’s looking up directions or language translations. I uninstalled apps like Twitter, Facebook, and Gmail.
Through these changes, I can now admit that the internet had become like a surrogate friend to me, smoothing out the natural lows of life with instant validation at essentially free cost. I often found myself in between tasks for the day, wanting an emotional burst before continuing. Instead of reaching out to be validated by the internet, I now sit silently and let my brain go where it wants, until it’s internally motivated to tackle the next task. Since doing this, my thoughts have more clear and ideas for articles such as this one has been more forthcoming. I look around at people staring like zombies into their phones and realize how they are in a race to absorb as much information as possible in the hope of receiving emotional stimulation from digesting someone else’s work instead of accomplishing their own goals instead. I have no doubt that validation-seeking has caused me a lot of harm in terms of ideas or articles I could have come up with if I just sat still and held whatever discomfort I may have been feeling.
Twitter Was The Worst Of My Addictions
Twitter was especially damaging to me. There are several reasons:
— When I was thinking alone, and stumbled upon a good idea, I preferred to disrupt my thinking, share the 140-character condensed version on Twitter, and then keep checking for responses. In effect, it was a thinking stopper.
— Writing a blog post is hard, but constructing a tweet is easy, and you can get as many soma hits to your brain from new “notifications” as you would from a carefully thought-out blog post. I estimate that I have not written at least 75 posts because of sharing crap on Twitter.
— The content treadmill never ends. It takes me about 20 minutes a day to read all the blogs I subscribe to. The number of new content from my favorite sources are finite, like reading a newspaper, but on Twitter, you can sink hours following connections, conversations, entertaining beefs, and so on. You can drop a tweet and check back two minutes later and then drop a reply that requires further checking. It was both addicting and neverending.
Now when I read an article I like, I think about it for a minute or two. If I have an interesting thought, I keep it going and ask myself if I can expand it into a proper article. I’ve nearly completely stopped sharing things on social networks. The withdrawal from doing this was modest, only lasting a few days. It was easier to kick than I thought it would be.
One important thing I must state is that the quality of my life has not gone down because of these changes. I don’t feel like I’m missing out, because the information I got from Twitter did not offer solutions to specific problems I had. Instead, it was entertainment, extra information that kept me distracted. The truths I’ve realized in life were not from reading a thousand articles on the same topic, but experiencing life on my own, taking risks, and then thinking about the resulting experiences.
Are You Addicted To The Internet?
The best way to know if you have an internet addiction is to imagine how difficult it would be for you to limit social networking, email, and smartphone usage. The harder it is, the more likely you have a problem of using the internet not as an informational tool but as a distractor and mood regulator of life.
I used to think that the internet was better than television in that it offered more mental rewards, but with the direction it has taken in the past 10 years, especially with the development of smartphone apps, I can no longer say that sharing or viewing items on Instagram, Facebook, or Twitter, and then checking obsessively for replies is better than watching a television comedy show. Both require the lowest of brain function, but at least in the comedy you can encounter a joke to use on your friends to make them laugh. If you look at the faces of people who are on their smartphones, mindlessly scrolling through Facebook, you’ll see that it’s as empty and hollow as those watching television.
If your approach to the internet is balanced, your usage should decrease as you start to solve the problems in your life. If you are reading blogs for game advice, and your game starts getting sharper, you should be reading less game blogs. If you understand the damage that a certain ideology is doing on society, like feminism, you should be reading less articles about feminism as time goes on. Only when you establish a new goal, such as studying a language, should your internet usage temporarily rise to aid you. But to constantly use it every day, regardless of what knowledge you already have on certain topics, what information you immediately need, or what your future goals are, means you are treating the internet not as a tool, but as a lifestyle, trading it in for real life instead.
Most of the population is not going to exhibit control in their internet usage by only reading select resources while not attention whoring on social networking, so it appears that we may have arrived at the point where, for the average person, the internet will cause them greater harm than being a couch potato. It’s time we all be more thoughtful about how we incorporate the internet into our daily routines, and make sure it doesn’t take over our lives completely.
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