I need to change my Internet habits.
I spend a lot of time online for both work and pleasure, and the line between the two often blurs. It’s easy for that to happen on the Internet. You get on to check reviews and samples for homeschooling curricula and, before you know it, you’re watching a video of dueling cellos while ogling pictures of steampunk-themed sand castles and it’s 1 am and five hours have gone by.
I’m not a scientist and I can’t discuss the latest research on how the Internet is changing our brains. But I do know that it’s had a negative impact on my brain in the following ways:
First, it’s turning me into a consumer rather than a creator. Guys, there is such a LOT of cool stuff on the Internet. Thoughtful and witty and entertaining blog posts. Gorgeous photos and awesome art. Funny memes, useful how-tos, amazing facts. I could spend hours immersing myself in other people’s words and images.
And quite frequently, I do.
But the thing is, if I’m consuming then I’m not giving myself the time or space or silence to create. And if I don’t create, if I don’t bring art from within me, I feel down and depressed.
Which leads me to another aspect of the Internet: it’s shortening my attention span. Ever notice how you surf the web? You read a short blog post, follow a link to a two-minute video, move on to a series of pictures with funny captions, then tweet or change your FB status. You’re restless, constantly on the move, clicking links, opening and closing tabs.
If it doesn’t grab right away, if it’s not broken up with lots of white space and cute images, if it’s too difficult to get into, you move on.
And that’s filtering into other areas offline. Follow an argument through several pages of densely-written text? Phbbt. Reached a snag in my current story? I’ll just check my RSS feed for a few minutes. I wrote a paragraph? Hooray. Now I can go see if someone mentioned me on Twitter.
Uh. No. In order to write the kinds of stories I want to, I need to dig deep into myself. I need to burrow into my characters’ heads, wear their skins, feel the bite of the wind and the stench of sewage and the ache of muscle… and I can’t do that if I’m running off every ten minutes.
The Internet keeps me sedentary. I am my brain and my body (and my soul, but I’m not getting into that discussion right now). They feed each other. Ever notice how many ideas come to you when you’re doing a repetitive action, like washing dishes or sweeping the floor or–this is a big one for me–pacing a room? My muscles work, kickstart my brain, and boom! I unsnarl a plot point, a coy character starts talking, and I get a new story idea.
The Internet can cause unhealthy dependence on casual relationships. Online interactions are like a drug. Every comment on a blog post and every retweet can give a momentary high, leaving one craving more. My life, though, is not measured in blog subscribers, twitter followers or the opinions of perfect strangers. When those things take away from the real, important work of raising my children and investing in my close (on and offline) relationships, they’re taking a place that’s not meant for them.
And lastly, too much screen time makes me feel bad. If I spend too much time staring at the screen (and this includes TV and video games) I come away feeling jittery, anxious, sad, or down. And then it’s hard for me to reconnect with the world around me, with my family, with my own stories, with God.
And with that, it’s time for me to get off the computer and take my children outside to see what butterflies and dragonflies we can spot!
How is the Internet affecting your brain? What guidelines govern your Internet usage?