The Internet Is Making Us Busier

Posted: September 11th, 2011 | Author: | Filed under: Thinking Out Loud, Web/Tech | Tags: , , , , , , | 3 Comments »

So often nowadays I find myself wanting to relax with a book and sit down on a couch with no distractions and just read. But it never quite seems to happen, because something else is always calling. There’s always something else I can be doing. Something productive. And it’s a never-ending cycle I can’t escape from.

I’m going to say that I’m not alone in this. Other people I’ve talked to say that they have exactly the same problem. That they can’t actually sit down to do something in the offline world these days because they are always drawn back to the Internet for some reason or another.

So what exactly am I talking about when I say “the Internet is making us busier?”.

The Internet means we can always be doing something. It connects us with people we know and people we don’t know. It connects us with every bit of information on the planet. It is where we do our work and where we have our fun.

When I sit down to read a book there are a million other things I could be doing because of the Internet. I could be replying to emails or doing a history research assignment or writing up financial sheets for Duo or talking with someone on Skype. This feeling is exacerbated because of my iPhone – no matter the time of day or where I am, I always feel like I can be doing something. I feel permanently busy.

I don’t think this feeling is healthy. Some of my most productive time is when I have absolutely nothing to do, and can just sit down somewhere quiet and think.

These days the most productive I get is on planes, because even though I have a computer I’m not connected on the Internet – so I can focus more on one thing without feeling like I could be doing something else.

I’ve taken to switching off absolutely everything including computer and iPhone when I want to be productive. But even when I do this, I still feel a calling – a calling to turn them back on and browse the net or reply to emails.

I’ve just started reading The Shallows by Nicholas Carr (recommended to me by Anjela Webster), and although I’ve only read the first few chapters some of these concerns have been addressed. Carr talks more about how we find it harder to focus when reading now, because we are used to the form of browsing the web where our concentration flies around between websites and parts of web pages. But in general these are two similar concerns that are affecting human behaviour in similar ways.

As Carr points out in the introduction of his book, “The medium is the message”. The Internet, and the technologies we browse it on, is how we are being defined as humans and how we work and play.

I don’t know a way to avoid this problem. And in all honesty, I think it’s unavoidable. The benefits of the Internet outweigh the negatives. But I will continue my strategy of regularly turning things off when I want to truly focus and get things done.