Sunday, September 11, 2011

A substance more addictive than nicotine and morphine combined?

How I survived a week in the wild plains of yesteryear.

Recently I was temporarily consigned to a world without social interaction, a world without any joy whatsoever, a world devoid of entertainment and stimulation. No not Sligo somewhere far, far worse. For an entire seven days I resided in my dwellings without one of life's main essentials. I had running water, electricity and a bed to sleep in but at one point or another I would have gladly traded any of these (except electricity as you'll soon discover) for the one thing that I could not live without. I am of course talking about the internet. Moving house brings with it much upheaval and distress but lugging furniture up two flights of stairs pales in comparison to being essentially cut off from humanity. When you couple this trauma with the loss of television to boot you may begin to wonder how I even lived to tell the tale. But although there was some hairy moments I somehow managed to survive this torturous ordeal and in my opinion I'm a better man because of it.

During my hiatus in the twilight zone I relied heavily upon the oldest form of wireless communication, the radio. And it was with a wry smile that I listened to a story about how addiction to the internet is affecting the lives of the nation. Everything from the breakdown of marriages to the filing for bankruptcies can apparently be attributed to overuse of the internet and whereas at one time the blame could be solely aimed at males browsing 'specialist' sites it now seems that the women are just as bad. Endless hours spent tending virtual farms, and in the process presumably neglecting their real life equivalent ie; the homestead, has left the nation's husbands in a state of quandary as they attempt to iron their own shirts and, shock horror, cook their own dinners. It was never supposed to be like this, what happened to the idyllic picture on the box of that shiny new laptop which depicted a happy family browsing the web as one and having a jolly good time in the process? Instead that laptop has been swiftly joined by another due to 'Daddy hogging it' and now both Mammy and Daddy can be found hovering over a glowing screen till the small hours while their feral children rummage through the cupboards in the hope of finding even the smallest morsel of food to keep them from starving to death.

So while I chortled my way through this radio report and scoffed at the idea of feuding families seeking counsel to resolve their web warfare I noted with some satisfaction that I'd gone an entire 6 hours without any online usage and far from displaying the first signs of an addict deprived of his drug I was in fact thriving! There's nothing to this I thought as I reconnected with radio djs I hadn't listened to in years, cleared the backlog on my UPC box and read books at a voracious rate not seen since my childhood. So this is what my life was like before I spent every waking hour discussing inane conspiracy theories with complete strangers, discovering what happened to random celebrities from my youth and watching videos which by all rights should have horrified me but left me unfazed and apathetic. For the first time in years I felt liberated as I worried not about whether my several incisive yet scathing comments had received any responses on a football forum or whether my tweet telling Michael Owen to “just become a jockey if he loves horses so much” had roused a reaction and instead I went about my day with a head clear of such trifling matters safe in the knowledge that my presence amidst the world wide web would not be missed.

That was after the first day. By day two, a Saturday, I began to notice with no little distress that my daily routine had become disrupted due to this change in my circumstances. I sat down with my morning paper and regaled in the pleasures of sorting out the various sections in anticipation of an epic day gorging upon the work of the Guardian's finest. Within twenty minutes of finishing the sports section and moving onto the main paper I found myself becoming restless. I thought I felt a slight twitching in my left eye but ignored it and continued my perusal of places to visit in North Wales. The twitch became more pronounced and with it came an irrepressible urge to wiggle my fingers incessantly, what the hell was this? Was I turning into a werewolf? I again continued unabashed and resisted the urge to call my GP with these worrying symptoms. If only I could google them I thought absent mindedly to myself. The word Google struck me like a thunderbolt and with it the realisation that I wasn't morphing into something from a Wes Craven film but was in actual fact displaying the first signs of internet withdrawal symptoms. I needed a fix and I needed it bad but instead I found myself cut off from society reading the bloody paper and listening to Sile Seoige bang on about her childhood and how she...blah, blah, blah, blah.......fuck off Sile you insufferable bore!

What had happened? Within the space of 24 hours I'd gone from being at ease in a world without any online activities to someone who had begun to daydream about that lovely little red notification circle on facebook and the joys contained therein. Enough I said, stop being so weak you can do this . Had my twenty odd years on this earth before the advent of the internet been for nought. Was I now a slave to the whims of those who preyed upon impressionable souls like myself and insisted we live our entire lives online? Before my time in this abyss began I had vowed not to crumble by visiting an internet cafe and with a phone that I steadfastly refused to pay extra to use surfing the web I was left bereft and bereaved with no possible chance of redemption for the foreseeable future. I anxiously paced the floors of my flat and wondered what inanities were being discussed by those I knew only by their online monikers, I self indulgently wondered if anyone missed me pondering that if I died would those whom I only ever spoke to online ever become aware of my demise. In spite of myself it appeared that I was undergoing the first stages of withdrawal and in much the same way as those weaning themselves off heroin or alcohol experienced I was turning into a sweating, convulsing wreck with each passing moment. But unlike those attempting to eliminate poisonous toxins from their body I sought refuge in the knowledge that my addiction would soon be catered for as reconnection to the mainframe was only days away.

So having carefully overcome this slight bump in the road and regaining a sense of normality I recommenced my life of spartan frugality. And, football related news aside, I found that my initial comfort in existing on a steady diet of the wireless, printed word and the occasional dvd was not the result of a deceptive mind but in actual fact a highly enjoyable alternative lifestyle. Indeed after a couple of days I could honestly say that I never gave the internet and it's bountiful delights a moments thought as I readjusted to a way of living that only a few years ago was the norm. I could come over all schmaltzy and say that not interacting with people online meant that I rediscovered the joys of talking to people face to face and not hiding behind the safety of my keyboard all the time but that would be nonsense. Whether I was an internet addict or not was still up for debate but I vehemently denied any allegations that my online dalliances had altered my ability to interact with real life society in any way, shape or form. But was all of this just an illusory state of inner peace brought about by the mollifying fact that despite my relative comfort in an interactive free zone I would be back up and running in a couple of days and those books would be left gathering dust just as they were before?

So as UPC finally sorted their act out and set about installing my broadband / TV combination I sat pensively in the corner offering an air of insouciance whilst secretly urging them to 'hurry on so I can get back online'. With the door barely closed behind them the laptop was booted into life and my mind was taken to that place where time seems to lose relevance as minutes become hours, hours become aeons and before you know it it's time for bed. I hopped from facebook to my emails and back to facebook again, briefly perusing twitter on my way, posted countless inane comments on various forums and opened links that simply couldn't be ignored, and at the end of it all my mind had been reduced to pulp due to the continuous stream of disposable information that had been absorbed, processed and dispensed with little or no afterthought. It appeared I had learned nothing and my time in purgatory was to be nothing more than a brief interval in a life otherwise dominated by the power of the internet. But to my surprise I found that although the world wide web was invariably my first port of call upon settling down for the evening some of the things I'd sampled during my time away began to jostle for position in my life also. No longer was the radio something I only turned to in times in trouble as I made the musings of George Hook part of my daily routine. Sadly my saved programmes quickly began to stack up again on my UPC box and more than one unfinished book lay neglected on the coffee table but although these may have been signs of a rampant addiction I knew that if it came to it I could happily survive in a world sans internet and for that alone I was grateful.

The internet is a vital tool for each and every one of us in the 21st century, it's become such a crucial part of our lives that we've got to the stage where we simply can't live without it. But how many times have you sat down to do some serious work online only to find yourself led astray by the temptations of your favourite social networking sites? Unlike the feeling of completion that you experience upon turning the last page of a book, or even watching the credits roll at the end of a film, the internet is never ending and offers no tangible reward for the hours we frequently spend at its altar. Humans by our very nature are incessantly curious beings and it's this which make the web such an alluring prospect for us, rather than be restricted by the confines of books or television we can dictate how we wish to be entertained and if something doesn't keep us rapt for more than a couple of minutes then it's summarily dismissed and on we go. It's this kind of web usage which is at the root of any potential addiction and it could even be argued that the behavioural pattern displayed by these kind of users isn't too dissimilar to that of a strung out junkie chasing their new fix or a quivering alcoholic frantically searching the cupboards for that half empty bottle of Pernod. Melodramatic? Perhaps so. But if you too chortle at the idea of someone being addicted to something as trivial as the internet just try and live without it for a week and see how you fare.   

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