The Internet, My Inbox, and Other Soul-Draining Items

The other day I had an hour to kill before seeing a movie with my dad. I had options. I could write the next scene of my short story, read some poetry, or breeze through a chapter of my current novel. Instead, I went on Facebook. Then I checked my inbox on Yahoo. Then Gmail. Then Goodreads. Back and forth, from site to site, for 60 minutes.

By the time my dad came up to pick me up, the hour had disappeared. I had actually lost an hour online.

The Shallows delves into the internet's effect on our brains; you can check out a link to my review of the book at the end of this post. Cover via Goodreads.

The Shallows delves into the internet’s effect on our brains; you can check out a link to my review of the book at the end of this post. Cover via Goodreads.

Two years ago I wrote a post lauding the positives of the internet. Indeed, if it were not for the internet, I would be unable to share my glamorous selfies thoughts on this blog, Skype my friends who live hundreds of miles away, and look up random information with just a few clicks. However, even as I write this post, I feel an insidious issue arising in my head – that the internet promotes shallow and scattered thinking, detracting from our ability to focus for an extended period of time.

Aside from some of the internet’s other negative effects, in The Shallows, Carr writes about how it rewires our brains. Like a drug, it addicts us and provides us with unhealthy and short-lived dosages of dopamine. On a personal level, at times I feel like the internet has damaged my attention span. Sometimes when working online, the desire to check my email or to go on Twitter or Facebook disrupts my flow of thought. Even when engaging in non-internet related tasks, I find myself drifting away. I still maintain the ability to focus when I study, do serious work, or really put my mind to it, but I often wonder whether I live up to my full intellectual potential – or whether the internet has presented me with a mental road block.

The internet continues to shape society as well. My youngest cousin got a smartphone in the fifth grade, and a high school near where I live requires that its students have smartphones to participate in certain class activities. Nowadays, when waiting in line at stores or walking outside, I notice so many kids tapping away on their phones instead of reading books or interacting with the people around them. It causes me to question the authenticity of the friendships they form, and on a wider scale, I feel like so many of us have become so consumed with our online appearance that we fail to make a genuine effort to connect with those around us outside of a “like” or “favorite” button. While the internet acts as a bridge, in does not always foster meaningful conversation – it does not always create an engaging back and forth as opposed to a “reblog” or a “like.”

I guess it comes back to moderation, at least for me. Whenever I find myself on Facebook for unproductive reasons, or Twitter, or even forums about clinical psychology programs, I need to remind myself that I have to live my life – not just read about other people’s lives online. Whenever a void appears, instead of sinking into it, I will leap over it, avoiding Facebook depression and all the other possible consequences.

My hot mess of an inbox, with over 80 emails unaddressed. Doing my best to reply, though they just keep on coming.

My hot mess of an inbox, with over 80 emails unaddressed. I do my best to reply, though they just keep  on coming.

What have your experiences been with the internet? I’m sure it has pros and cons for everyone, but does anyone relate to the more negative effects I address in this post? Or do you not have any issues with the internet and technology at all? Perhaps the summertime has siphoned my attention span, and the internet remains innocent. Anyway, if you want to read my reviews of The Shallows by Nicholas Carr, Annie On My Mind by Nancy Garden, and We Were Liars by E. Lockhart, you can find them here, here, and here respectively. I hope you all have a fabulous week!

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20 Comments

Filed under Personal, Society

20 responses to “The Internet, My Inbox, and Other Soul-Draining Items

  1. Great post! I think the internet definitely has its positives, but I agree with you about it possibly damaging attention spans. When I was younger, I would read for hours but now I find that I can’t always read for long periods of time without becoming distracted and checking Facebook, Twitter etc. Recently I’ve been making a conscious effort to spend less time online, but I agree with you that it’s about moderation!

    • Glad you see what I mean about the internet reducing our ability to focus, though self-awareness is the first step to solving that problem so I think we’re both on the right track. Thank you for reading and commenting!

  2. I completely agree with you! Since getting a Twitter, Instagram, and Facebook, I have noticed that I have the urge to check them all when doing homework or other tasks that require longer periods of focus. It’s very alarming, and I try my best to stay focused and get things done. This is a topic that really intrigues me, as it is so relevant to my life! I’ll definitely have to read that book!

    • Yep, nowadays all of the social media sites just serve as distractions. Perhaps to succeed one must develop the ability to do away with such distractions in order to accomplish greater things. Thanks for reading and commenting, and I hope you enjoy The Shallows whenever you check it out!

  3. I fear that I support this evidence. By my actions. And because I know it to be true.

  4. The Howling Fantogs

    Yeah, I totally agree with this in many ways. Whilst using public transport I do look somewhat on my own reading a book instead of tapping at my phone. Even my four and five year old nieces have ipads on their desks. I do benefit from it in so many ways though. I have discovered bew bands that I otherwise wouldn’t, reconnected with old friends through Facebook and made contact with interesting and creative new people through Twitter and WordPress (your good self included :)) I also get to chat to my brother who lives on the other side of the world like he is in the toom with me. I guess it’s just about moderation. Difficult when online though, because one thing leads to another and whole hours dissappear. As you are fully aware.

    • Yep exactly, the internet does a wonderful job of connecting us to others, but we should be wary of using it for no purpose – that time when “whole hours disappear,” as you write. Thank you for reading and commenting as well as for your solidarity!

  5. So true… I’m in the middle of finals and for the first few days I’d switched off my phone ’cause I got distracted so often. While I didn’t experience any “withdrawal symptoms”, I do tend to do mind-numbing things when I am accessing the internet. *shudder* The internet really is taking over, but in a subtle, pleasant way. Almost like many other addictions, I suppose.

    • Yep, I know many people who need to put procrastination blockers on their laptops – it’s good that you were able to switch off your phone, because even that steps requires self-control. You’re right that the internet’s hold on us is quite insidious indeed. Thank you for reading and commenting!

  6. peter

    Absolutely true – the very fact that I read your post is proof of this. I should be working away at my MA dissertation on Shakespearean Tricksters, but thought I’d check my Inbox, came across your mail, clicked to your post and now am writing this. Damn! – I could have made progress on Higher Things; but there you are: an example of irony, I suppose.

    • Irony in its best form, because it brought you here! (: Jokes aside, yep, your comment is a wonderful exemplar, and I hope your MA dissertation is going well! What a cool and specific subject – do you intend to pursue a Ph.D. after attaining your MA?

  7. I agree that the internet can be destructive–like Facebook depression, or how people do cool things and spend the whole time taking photos to relive later instead of just living it the first time and making more vivid memories.
    That said, so many of my hobbies (blogging, YouTube, photography) are online or have an online element. So many of my friends are internet friends, and if I didn’t spend so much time online or ticking away at my phone I wouldn’t have them in my life. It’s not a concrete issue, it definitely goes both ways.

    • I agree with you Sabina, it works both ways. We need to remember to live real life while supplementing our experiences with the online world, as long as we do not let the internet take control of us. Thank you for reading and commenting!

  8. I think as with everything that we humans invent, it’s as much to do with what we use, as how we use it. The internet can be used for a lot of good things, but instead it’s often used to make us feel bad about ourselves, or makes other feel bad about themselves, or just wasting time in general.

    As with the above commentor, I’ve found that a lot of my life is online. Blogging, tumblr (yes even that), and even my work have all allowed me to learn new things; plus the net’s actually allowed me to form lots of great connections – so yeah, I’d say it’s all in the method.

    My younger sister’s school also implements online learning into the curriculum, and I admire how well it’s done, and I think as long as the students are shown how beneficial it can be that’s fine. But they should also be shown the benefits and importance of other sources as well.

    And don’t worry – I’ve lost a couple of hours here and there – it’s kind of scary how easy it is actually – you blink and suddenly a good part of your day is gone. Must be more disciplined *sigh*

    (I hadn’t heard of Gaiman’s A Study in Emerald, btw, but I’ve looked it up and will be reading it soon 🙂 )

    • You’re right, sometimes we might abuse the internet but it does have several benefits. Hopefully with awareness we will shape technology and our use of it instead of the other way around – complete dependence would most likely be a bad thing. Glad I’m not the only one who has lost a few hours online, and we can strive to be more disciplined together!

      Excited to hear what you think of A Study in Emerald, and I’m happy that you got my comment. I still remember how my first comment on your blog was just lost in a void somewhere. (*shudders*)

  9. This is a great post Thomas! I can totally relate to you. Because I was out of School for a year and a bit I spent a lot of time online and when I got back into the classroom setting it was difficult to get used to not being online. I never took my laptop into class but I took my tablet, so I’d be on it during some lectures. I did feel bad about it because I had been someone who frowned on people when they didn’t pay attention; but then some of my classes were incredibly boring. But I feel like being online does do damage to my focus and attention span. The internet is kind of like the ultimate tool for procrastination, but it does a lot of good at the same time. Like Twitter has been great for me to discover news about what’s going on in Gaza or about representation, but at the same time it can make you feel guilty about your own life and how little or more you’ve accomplishments. But I think it’s all about perception so I’m trying not to compare my life to others because we do have different experiences.

    Hope you’re enjoying the last month of Summer!

    • Yep, using the internet to gain knowledge instead of making yourself feel bad via social comparison is a good approach. Also, I totally relate to the qualms that come with utilizing the internet while in class – these past two semesters it’s been a struggle for me, though I know that my professors would appreciate it if I paid attention to them, so most of the time it works out for the best. Glad you have the self-awareness that one’s perception of the internet affects his or her relationship with it, that way, things won’t get out of hand.

      I am, though I also cannot wait to get back to school. Thank you for reading and commenting!

  10. Thomas, I find myself losing hours to the internet daily. I am trying to grow my blog, job search online and create meaningful, professional connections via LinkedIn and social media in general. Obviously all of this is time consuming, especially growing a blog and commenting on other blogs. But this past Saturday I spent 4 hours at the library doing work. First thing I checked when I opened up my laptop was Facebook. Next thing I knew I had been at the library for a full hour and had done no significant work. I’ve always worried about my attention span and feared that I have some level of ADHD. Well, I think the internet is not helping. Great post! Very interesting!

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