Browsers Anonymous

Recently, TobyJoe and I were discussing the role of the Internet in our lives. It seems that every holiday or vacation or similar break from our daily patterns leads to an awareness of how much time we spend online and how little it really does to better lives.

My use of the Internet borders on an addiction. I can’t help but wonder what purpose, if any, it serves. I can’t help but wonder about the potentially negative side-effects.

I hate the phone. I have a cell because we have no landline. I have lived without my cell phone for periods in the past and didn’t miss it one bit. I washed one and tried to dry it out using silicone and the freezer. It worked, but only halfway: I could hear callers, but couldn’t speak. Eventually, after 4 long weeks, I gave up and purchased a replacement. I lost that one within a week to the back seat of a cab. Never saw that again. The cabby probably gave it to his niece or girlfriend since it was hot pink. Living without my phone was kind of awesome, to be honest. I made plans the old fashion way. No one called during inopportune times. I received phone calls at work. My nights were free from ringing. I enjoyed it. I barely answer the phone to begin with. I am not sure why we pay for it. It’s actually a huge waste of money.

But the Internet – ahhhh, the Internet. I noticed today that it’s slammed. Sites are slow as molasses if they are running at all. It took me 2 hours to post to MamaPop today. (TypePad was down.) Flickr’s been iffy at best and Twitter is stumbling like it normally does. Even my site was down for most of the morning. After nearly 2 weeks away, it seems the entire world is catching up on their long lost lover: the Internet. I am guessing by the slowness of things, there aren’t many people out there whose New Year’s resolutions included giving up the Internet. God forbid anyone live without the Internet. And that got me thinking: could I quit the Internet?

I gave up smoking. Probably the hardest thing I’ve ever given up. Ever. I hate it now. I hate that people do it. I hate the smell. I actually think it’s one of the dumbest things anyone could ever do to themselves. I kicked it good and hard. That habit is gone forever. I realize that smoking would have killed me had I not quit, which is why it became urgent that I do so. But how about incessant surfing? How about refreshing the same old Web sites over and over again? What does that do to a person? What does all this refreshing, button mashing, blog posting, comment leaving, site reading do to us? Does it fuel anxiety? Does it make us lazy, less likely to get out of the house? Go to Yoga, the gym? Does it keep us from taking our kids for a walk?

Does the Internet attract people who already have anxiety or does it create it for people who may feel perfectly OK otherwise? Does the Internet attract the depressed or create the depression? When will there be psychiatrists who suggest people spend less time on the Internet; groups for people who need support; doctors who ask how much time one sends on line? When will this catch up to us?


  1. Fortunately, the internet isn’t all bad. It would be best,though, if one could limit their visits to blogs to once-a-day. (Like that’s gonna happen.)

    I actually gave up my internet connection at home when I gave up my landline. I was spending way too much time online. I can check my email with my cell phone and that’s all I really need to do. Now, when they start blocking at work I might have to become a slave to my ISP again.


  2. Yeah..internet is the one thing I’d say was the main culprit for my lack of exercise, reading (actual books), bike riding, picture taking, everything not online basically. I ended up getting rid of my blog and haven’t looked back since. I love it! I do still use Flickr quite a bit….but it has actually made me want to get out and take pictures more often. I also have found a new vice. Facebook. But I’m not on there ALL the time. :)


  3. First: I have noticed the same internet crappiness today and it has also made me wonder if maybe I need to get out more because the outages have me stressed out.

    Second: I did the quit smoking thing four years ago and still say it’s the hardest thing I’ve ever done.


  4. I think you’re dead on about the internet attracting anxiety-ridden folk like us. The constant contact – a security blanket. The posting and comment leaving – group therapy.

    I don’t think we’re 100% better for it. The amount of time I spend just managing my RSS feeds is a complete time suck, time I could better spend doing something less self-devouring (and talk about anxiety fuel… 162 unread posts as I type).

    But I don’t think we’re necessarily 100% worse for it, either. One thing’s for certain: I’m writing a heck of a lot more now than I ever did before I had a blog. Taking more pictures now that I have a Flickr account. Creating. Analyzing the world.

    Creation’s not such a bad addiction, now, is it?


  5. I am a fan of both Facebook and Flickr as well. Fortunately, the former is blocked at work.

    No offense to Michele in particular, but ignoring phone calls is actually quite rude. Furthermore, it’s starting to drive me batty trying to carry on a conversation via text messaging. I don’t know about you guys, but I’m not just all thumbs; I also think and speak in complex sentences.

    I think I’m just going to stop responding to texts.

    Recently, someone who will remain nameless and with whom I was meeting one evening wrote a text message to inform me he was outside my apartment. When I got downstairs I asked him how long it took to type that out v. just calling up.


  6. MIssy: No offense at all taken. But, mind you, I DO always answer whenever you call! I can’t type worth shit on the phone. So, I totally understand. :]


  7. P.S. When you call. Although, that’s not all that much anymore, since I had Emory.


  8. I think the internet is like the enabler in any addiction. It just keeps on giving as long as you want to keep on taking. I started using the internet with deeply seated anxiety but is has definitely morphed into something worse. And, like anyone with an addiction and an enabler, I’ll blame it for my problems and keep on refreshing those screens.


  9. I think the internet is exactly what you need or want it to be. We have the power to do what ever we want. Good job kicking that nasty habit btw!


  10. I think the internet is fine in small amounts.

    The past few months I have not been able to spend more than a few minutes a day (sometimes only a few minutes a week) on the internet. In my heart, I am partially a neo-luddite, so this makes me a tiny bit proud. On the other hand, I know people aren’t reading the same way they used to, even though I do think there are more readers in the world overall.

    There is no denying the internet is powerful. In fact I want to start a new website this year, an anthology about the concept of memory. And I want to keep my internet usage to a few minutes a day.

    I still believe it is do-able. I think I have learned after this past few years that there really aren’t that many things I truly must read or even “see” on a regular basis. When I come across unempathetic or ‘complaint writing’, I tend to tune out and move on whether I love the writer or not. Though I think I am not the norm. There is a large market for snark and negativity on the internet.

    I guess my take is that the internet is here to stay. And we internet people are a diverse lot. We’re growing and evolving. There will probably continue to be some rare & powerful goodness and a lot of … blah.


  11. I was depressed before the internet, so i have to say that it attracts depressed people. My favorite blogs (just realized this) are written by those who suffer some form of depression. My blog is pathetic b/c unless i am posting pics, i tend to write when i have nowhere else to go. Oh god, how i am terrified of the phone, but have been suicidal, and live by myself, so sometimes i just gotta reassure people i am “OK” and alive. So damn embarrassing.

    BTW – my current addiction is reading your archives and most of the links no longer work, in case you weren’t aware.


  12. also, how i wish your comments are open on older posts. Sometime I just really need to comment (perhaps a compulsion?) Have send a few emails – why havent you answered? What, just b/c you have a baby you suddenly have no time to email people you dont even know?^

    you rock!


  13. As much as I love the internet, I don’t think it’s doing me (or others) any favours. At heart I’m already an introvert. The internet/email doesn’t help me any. I’ve had to really make a focused effort on calling people rather than emailing them at work. Even when I know that phoning would be easier, I default to email… I think it’s a nerves thing for me. I like to be able to control all aspects of communication and email seems to be a good way to do it. Eek!

    I totally thing the internet is making a bunch of introverts out of all of us. It’s reducing the need to connect socially with others and reduced the need to go outside (internet banking, purchasing, getting maps to name a few).

    My sister is a good example of a product of the internet age. She spends almost all of her waking hours online. Most of her friends are online. She rarely goes out.

    Anyhow, I’m rambling and I need to go to work. I’d rather sit here and chat, but…. :)

    PS – new blog if you care to visit! had to take the other one down. Hemlock


  14. I agree with a lot of what Hemlock says.

    What is the excessive internet use doing to our kids’ imaginations?  


  15. I’m a participant almost exclusively in asynchronous communication. The more dominant forms are, of course, Internet-based. Email, comments, SVN commit messages, wikis… The fuel for anxiety with asynchronous dialogue is the uncertainty of the existence of new additions. Are there new comments? Refresh. Are there new posts? Refresh. Are there new mails? Check all accounts.

    Ambient indicators (icons badged with unread message counts) help optimize the repeated checks, the polling, but they utilize the same pattern. Even the most efficient glancing fuels anxiety, gives a minor adrenaline boost.

    Still, I prefer these channels. I have a view opposite to that of Missy: the burden of communication is on the initiator, in my book. It’s not rude to turn off a ringer or send a call to voicemail. If anything, it’s rude to expect folks to jump (synchronously) as a response to the whims of others. Call screening, like asynch communication, allows the one party to state needs and the recipient party to reply if and when it’s appropriate – allowing both parties to manage their lives and priorities without interruption.


  16. First of all, I love TobyJoe’s comment. Second, the one thing I love about the internet and blogs in particular is creating a sense of “we are all a lot more alike than we ever realized” type of thing. Reading about other people’s lives, problems, happiness, ups and downs, etc. makes me feel more connected to people my age going through the exact same things, despite being in different cities or having different backgrounds. Now that I type this it sounds sort of naive, but I really enjoy connecting to strangers and their life stories.


  17. You made plans the old fashioned way? You sent people handwritten notes on personalized stationery via a servant? That’s awesome! :)

    The internet is good and bad. I’m starting to feel overwhelmed by how much time I give to it but I don’t think that quitting it all together Brokeback Mountain style isn’t the solution for me either.


  18. “we are all a lot more alike than we ever realized”

    That’s precisely why I started this blog almost 7 years ago.


  19. TJ: Nah, I didn’t mean to imply one should answer the phone every time it rings. Unless you’re sitting there doing nothing, ignoring the call because your heart starts beating faster at the thought of synchronous contact. However, I do balk at electronic communication replacing human contact as a result of such issues. Which is why I am ceasing text message conversations. Notifications? Fine. Conversations? Not fine.

    That said, work is another matter—often email is the the most efficient form of contact. I and many of my colleagues are on conference calls for a good part of the day, but this doesn’t prevent us from speaking/listening and writing/responding to emails simultaneously.


  20. I agree with Nicole’s comment. That is my view on the internet and why I like to read blogs and such. Also it kind of makes me feel like I have friends when I’ve never really had any before.


  21. “That said, work is another matter—often email is the the most efficient form of contact.”

    I prefer mail at work for the audit trail ;)


  22. TJ: True, true.

    By the way, I had an unnecessary text conversation today. I’ve broken my own rule.


  23. oh boy, you brought up a fantastic point, one which i’ve been trying to avoid as it stares me in the face and repeatedly flicks me in the neck.

    it’s true, i think, that the internet can exacerbate already present issues with anxiety, social isolation, etc. (stats! comments! emails! referrers! feeds! MUST CHECK MUST CHECK! agh!), especially if you’re not very careful with how much of your time is spent on it. whether or not it actually causes these to develop in some situations…well, damn. that’s depressing, but i’m sure a study will come out some day probably saying just that. or did it already?

    don’t tell me.


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