A few months ago now, I had a lot of problems with my home internet connections, which is thankfully was resolved after a week. My phone was also being repaired, so I didn’t have it either. To compound the problem, or make it even more interesting, we also had been having ongoing issues with my school’s connection, but this was not as annoying as my home problems. For me, these issues have really highlighted how integrated the internet, and more specifically access to it has become in my life.
I use it for so much of my communication, work and entertainment that when it is not working, even if I don’t in fact need it to do what I am doing, I feel that something is “off” in my personal world, when it is not working. I have been reflecting on this experience and these feelings as of late, in an attempt to understand why that is.
Lots of people have written on this subject, and I have read reasonably widely of them. There are lots of theories and different explanations of this phenomenon, which range widely and differ significantly. In my own head, I have amalgamated them into my own explanation; it my opinion and is what makes sense to me. I think it is due to the integrated nature of the internet into my life. It is something, like my phone or my watch, that I take for granted. I assume that it works and that I have it with me. I think about internet access in the same way.
Let me digress, and use an example involving my watch, to explain. I wear a watch every day. I have for years and years. I don’t wear it when I sleep for some odd reason. I always take it off when I get into bed for the night. It is just what I do. Somedays, rarely, I end up not putting it on and heading off to work. (Yes, I forget it. I am not a morning person and even with coffee I don’t operate on all cylinders first thing.) When I first realize that I forgot it, a cycle of looking at my blank wrist begins. It drives me nuts all day, especially when I am not on a computer with a clock starting at me constantly. When I don’t have it, I notice; when I do I am not even aware of it being there. And the internet has become the same.
I have known for a while, that my phone is not primarily a phone anymore; phone calls and text messages are my primary communication channels. Email, instant messenger programs and Skype are my primary means of communication at work and at home. Pretty much the only one who text messages me is my wife and occasionally other family members; my communication with friends is via the other mentioned services, which are internet dependent. When the network goes down, I feel a profound sense of disconnection to the world.
The internet in the last few years (if 10 counts as a few…) has become so integrated into my (and probably everyone else’s) lives that I must actively think about what is connected via the web and what is not. So many of my daily services are interactions need that global connection. At school our learning management system is not hosted on site; neither is our email; many of our regularly used services require internet access. I am a Dropbox user; every file I create for work or personally, lives in my Dropbox, which syncs them between my various computers. I don’t think I have used an USB to transfer files between my devices for about 2 years now. My system backups are also on a server somewhere, sitting in a data center located who knows where on earth. I read the news on websites instead of physical papers. Hell, I even stream the news nowadays as it means I can watch it when I am free to and want to, not when it is being broadcast.
In writing this, I have realized that I am in reliant on the internet, maybe even addicted to it. The brief week I had no internet at home and intermittent internet at work was stressful. I was unwillingly unplugged, and it really bugged me. It was beyond a mild annoyance or frustration, and almost seemed to be like a mild withdrawal. Admittedly, I have no idea what withdrawal is like. I don’t think the days when I miss my morning coffees count.
I think I can say I am addicted to the internet; not a site or activity, but the connectivity of the thing. It is a web (pun intended) that binds me to the world and connects the world to me. I am an internet addict and I am happy with that.