I used to be the epitome of extremely online. I was here for the memes, the retweets, answering everyone’s questions all at once, sharing witty commentary and updates about my life. The internet was my life. Even if we did meet up in meatspace sometimes, most of my friends were in my computer or in the tiny doombox known as my phone.
And then a few things started happening, some gradually, some all at once.
Some of us drifted apart. Some of my local friends live almost an hour apart all in different directions, which means getting everyone together is an Ordeal.
Some of us drifted together. I started playing Pokemon Go and hanging out with other nearby players.
Then the pandemic happened, and screen time became the ultimate lifeline as we as a society relied on our computers and phones for any shred of social interaction outside of our immediate household circles. Zoom and Discord hangouts replaced game nights and dinners out. Webex and Google Meet replaced reserving a conference room for work meetings.
As all this was happening, my entire life was happening in front of a screen in my bedroom. Despite having a roommate, I holed myself up in my room more often than not to take part in all these activities, my door closed out of politeness while my jams blared from the tinny laptop speakers.
And that’s what happens when you live with someone else in such close quarters when you can’t leave, when the world says you’re doing your part by staying the fuck at home to prevent the spread of coronavirus.
There’s something to be said about proximity.
So much of that isn’t real.
Our brains weren’t designed to work like this. When I started internetting, there were no constant notifications telling me when my friend had updated their blog or a celebrity died or someone had started shooting up a shopping mall.
Our brains aren’t designed to work like this. It’s too much information.
ADHD has been getting a lot more attention lately, and it makes sense. All the coping mechanisms that people with ADHD built before the pandemic disappeared in a flash. I don’t think I have ADHD. I think I just have information overload and our brains aren’t designed to process so much information coming at us constantly. The Queen died. Bannon is doing the perp walk. My factionmates talking strategy about their battles this week.
And it’s overwhelming. There’s always something new happening, and my work is also on a computer, and I work from home, and my for-fun writing is on a computer where the internet is and it’s all so much. I want to rip out my modem and take it to the dumpster some days but then I remember working from home does require a good internet connection.
To give you an idea, I’ve been trying to write this post for months. I handwrote parts of it, spilling my guts onto paper in coffee shops while overhearing awkward first dates and friendly catch-up sessions and even a job interview. I tapped a few words at a time. There’s an idea, let me describe my last five minutes.
Write a few words. Stare at the screen. Unable to think of what to write next, check Twitter. Realize that Discord is open and check a few of the many Discord servers I’m in. Remember there’s a new release I want to read and has the library ordered it yet? Go to the library’s online card catalog and log in. They have, so I mark it as for later since there’s only one copy and I can’t risk it coming in during NaNo. Remember there are a few more books I wanted to see if they have before buying them. Search for them and discover the library doesn’t have one of them. Come back to writing and document this process.
Over and over again.
I’ve pruned down my phone notifications to the bare minimum. Only actual calls and texts (and okay, Pokemon Go raid invites, but I don’t get too many of those) make an actual vibration. Everything else is silent. Most things aren’t pushed to my phone at all, and even then only if I haven’t been at the computer for so long.
I’ve installed Cold Turkey to track my internet activity and identify my problem spots so I can start blocking websites after I’ve been on them for too long.
I’ve talked about trying to stay in touch with friends, and even though I see more friends in person now, I still primarily talk to them online. That’s the nature of the beast, we can keep in touch about the little things going on and not just do a massive catching up session when we get back together that starts with “So, how have you been?”
But the internet wants me to have more dopamine and I can’t stop checking.
Remember when I used to want to work in social media because I was extremely online and it felt like the one skill I actually had at the time? I remember those days. It turns out I wasn’t very good at being an online communication shill, not for a product I didn’t care about. There are only so many ways you can make sales marketing sound fun and informative.
Now I’m glad I don’t. Everyone I know who communicates with the public is tired. Everyone comes to them when something goes wrong, even though the person who runs the company Twitter doesn’t control what the company as a whole does. Social media professionals (and it’s not the intern like I thought it was at one point, oh how naive I was) have to be glued to their phones with constant notifications; if a major world event happens, they have to check any scheduled updates and remove the upcoming ones that could be insensitive to current events.
I’ve pruned down to the basic notifications. Text messages. Discord DMs after Discord detects I’m not at my computer. Heck, even Twitter DMs don’t get push notifications anymore.
Nevertheless, the constant checking persists.
I meant to conclude this post in a meaningful way, but I started writing this post several months ago. Unfortunately nothing has changed. If anything, things have gotten worse on the digital front and the internet has become more stressful than fun.
So it’s time to go all-out. Time to disappear from the social web for a few days. I’ll be back Monday.