One of the problems of the Internet is that it constantly serves us with distractions. I am not quite as affected by it as many of my friends, but it has affected me nonetheless. YouTube has decreased my productivity by a third to a half, since I find it so irresistible to click on any of its myriad of videos. The worst part is, much of the content of that site is quite banal, such as people complaining about the quality of KFC food or knick-knacks at dollar stores. The trouble is that such content, in all their inanity, is nonetheless insanely addictive. I find it difficult to concentrate on my work or writing with so many potential sources of distraction.
Wikipedia is also one of these sites that become addictive. The problem with Wikipedia is that I have to sometimes use it for work, and while initially I might be looking up something work-related it can quickly devolve into a self-indulgent stroll of hyperlinks, as I waste my in time looking up dead celebrities that have been long forgotten or a mathematical theorem so obscure only the most dedicated math geek will care.
The thing is, it didn’t used to be this way. When I got my first computer back in the 90’s I couldn’t connect to the Internet, because I was given an outdated model that did not have a phone modem. You couldn’t play music or videos on the machine because Windows 3 did not have the appropriate software, and the machine lacked a sound card. My first computer was more or less a glorified typewriter, it allowed me to write and edit documents in Microsoft Word, has advanced functions such as the ability to change font size and use bold and italics, and use the magical feature of spell-check. Those features may not sound impressive now, but that was back in the 90’s. What it lacked in functionality it made up for by the absence of any distractions such as Facebook or YouTube.
The world of my childhood, the world before the juggernauts of Facebook, Google and YouTube, and smartphones, is forever lost to us. I wouldn’t want to go back to a time where I couldn’t simply check Wikipedia on my phone whenever I needed some piece of information, yet it is also a world where I am constantly bombarded with having to make decisions which I never had to make before. Should I take a look at that notification I got from Facebook or should I work on that assignment from work? Should I enable notifications from my phone in the first place? In a world of constant distraction it is difficult to decide whether one’s obligation in the cyber world trumps ones obligations in the real world.
Sometimes I take refuge in the charm of outdated technology. Instead of writing everything on a computer, I sometimes use a typewriter. The mechanical workings of a typewriter feel more substantial than a computer. Sometimes it makes me feel like I’m being a real writer. Also, it frees me up from some of the distractions of writing on a computer.
But I can’t run away from technology forever, because modern technology is far more efficient. I can’t easily blog or tweet something I’ve written on a typewriter. (Although people are developing solutions to this problem.) The solution is to learn how to use the new technologies more efficiently. Avoid the compulsion of clicking on whatever click-bait that comes in our direction, avoid the compulsion to fill our lives with social media. Eventually the people creating online content will need to be more responsible as well, crafting content that is more useful than distracting. It will be a long time before we learn how to use the new technologies responsibly. In the meantime, we should be more mindful of what we do on the Internet.