happily addicted to the internet

I am in a cafe without wifi and I feel dangerously adrift
I keep picking up my phone and putting it down again. My brain is firing off ideas – book that meeting! What was that thing on Twitter again? – and meeting the hard brick wall of non-connectivity.

I am like Mulder in one of those old X Files episodes where he keeps reaching for his lost gun, sighing as his hand hits the empty holster. At the time I remember thinking that this was excessive exposition. But now I am Mulder, reaching in vain for my arsenal of information, amusement, distraction, inspiration. I am Tinkerbell without her fairy dust; Amy Winehouse without the eyeliner and hair.

I mean, where does a cafe get off not having wifi in the 21st century, anyway? Isn’t it like a basic cafe right or something, like decaf options and the ability to choose from at least 6 different types of milk?
Isn’t this the very reason we enter cafes – to use the toilets and check our Twitter updates at leisure? What are all these other people DOING here?!

Some people think our addiction to the internet and our smartphones is a bad thing, I hear. We should switch off and get back to real interaction and face-to-face conversation.

Well, I disagree – actually, I’d quite like MORE internet activity in daily life, if possible. Why can’t I pay for my petrol on my phone without getting out of the car, already? What do you mean I have to fill in an actual paper form? When something requires me to phone and speak to an actual customer service rep, I feel like I’ve been stripped of an essential human right.
The thing is, if you’re socially anxious and a fan of staying in bed like me, ‘real life interaction’ isn’t actually always that great. It’s tiring and draining and leaves you full of regret. Whhhy did I ask that Scottish woman what part of Ireland she was from?
On the internet, these issues are totally NBD. Partly, I suppose, because the option exists to go back and delete yourself, and partly because it’s just easier to have perspective when you’re sat on your own sofa with a kitten and a glass of wine and the gentle hum of your daughter’s bedtime stories drifting down the stairs. This is how I like my social interaction; without too much eye contact, without public scrutiny, without the need to do my hair or get dressed.

In case my real-life friends are reading this and feeling affronted, obviously I like seeing you too! You, dear friends, are the happy exceptions, the people I am willing to brush my hair for and share the gin with. Seeing my friends is worth the effort expended, every time, but it does invariably leave me in need of a large nap and an hour or three of total solitude. Internet interaction is the thing I do to recover from reality.

& all that’s before I even mention the incredibly comforting power of instant information. I have always been anxious and in need of info-reassurance; at university I began calling my phone’s empty voicemail each morning, just to check I hadn’t missed notification of something terrible in the night. As an early internet adopter (I met some of my oldest friends on internet forums, over fifteen years ago ?) I found the lag time waiting for public wifi and smartphones to be invented extremely irksome.

I love the luxury of information at my fingertips, always. What’s that rash? How squishy should a ripe avocado be? What’s the cause of this traffic jam and how long will it take me to get out of it? And even, let’s be honest, sometimes at 3am – where is Madeline Mcann and what exactly were Jack the Ripper’s crimes, in toe-curling detail?
This stuff feeds my brain like a thousand tributaries to one roaring river of thought. That drip-drip of information, of twitter updates and exciting emails and wikipedia articles over cups of coffee are what make up the torrent of thought and activity in my daily life, and I like it like that. I have always been like this. If I unplugged and stopped consuming it via the internet, I’d go back to reading toothpaste tubes and encyclopaedias and yes, maybe the paperbacks on my bookshelves – but it wouldn’t add up to anything better.

But right now, I’m in a cafe with no wifi and I don’t have any of those available. Like superman after a cheese and kyptonite sandwich (my next fanfic project, FYI) I have been stripped of all that makes me powerful and left vulnerable and afraid.

So I am writing this post in the haze of desperation, and I suppose I’ll be glad of it, when I finally hit save. Even though it disproves my whole point, and argues for the other side. Even though it’s disloyal, in the end, to my very best friends – free wifi and the distraction of the my iPhone.

  • I’m half way. I don’t like dealing with things by phone or paper I much prefer online interaction. But I do love not having the internet all the time. I have a rule of no internet, social media etc on a Sunday which helps maintain the balance. And I’ve gone from hardly using Instagram to loving it very quickly

  • This needed to be said! I completely agree with you. I dislike the blanket approach of the internet is ‘bad’ – as if everyone is affected by social media in the same way. Thank you for your honesty! πŸ™‚

  • Carrie

    Very occasionally, I enjoy an internet ‘detox’ (though i’m not a fan of the phrase!) and switching off for a little while, but on my daily schedule, there is nothing more wonderful than having the ability to be connected to the internet 24/7 and practically having the whole world at my fingertips. A little while ago I got locked out of my house with just my phone, and thanks to that phone, I managed to get digital bus ticket to get into town, pay for my coffee and sit in a cafe (while being entertained by said phone!) while I waited for my boyfriend to finish work and rescue me with his keys. Without my phone, I would have sat alone on my doorstep for 3 hours. The only way my phone could have been more useful is when it learns the ability to unlock my front door for me, and I’m sure that’s not far off!

  • I think it’s gotten a bit cool to look down on the internet and the people who love it, and I think that’s total bollocks. The internet is an amazing and incredible and wonderful thing. It makes connection between billions of people across the planet possible. It gives us real insights into the world around us without having to rely on mainstream news. We no longer have every piece of news and entertainment filtered down to us by a select group in charge because WE are in charge, of the content that’s getting created and the content that we consume. I love. That said, nothing makes you get shit done than being disconnected.

  • I’m in the midst of applying for a new passport as well as a replacement for a birth certificate that I’ve discovered has somehow been lost. It amazes me that so many of the little things I need to do in this process can’t be done online yet, and how very long it’s going to take to get them done. I forget that not every system has caught up with the internet, when it’s so finely integrated into my life!

    As for the internet or social media being “bad” generally – I’m with you. I need the ease of interaction that comes with online and I love being able to research whatever I need to know at the press of a button. Surely we can all take responsibility for how and how often we use it, and know that everyone will have different preferences and needs?

  • LilBee

    Oooh I’m exactly the same (especially with reading toothpaste tubes and shampoo bottles; sodium sulphate laureate is the most common one you’ll find in shampoo I’ll have you know; I used to do this all the time as a child – how weird?!). I also felt guilty about my love for the internet but reading your post makes me realise I’m not alone in feeling this way and the guilt has dissipated – hurrah! Kudos to you Sara, as always. L x

  • What a great post. I always assume I will enjoy not being connected and end up feeling guilty for not enjoying being ‘free’. I’m abroad at the moment, so only get wifi/internet connection at home or when I am brave enough to ask what the cafe’s wifi password is (& even then sometimes I don’t understand what they’ve said & have to call them back over to enter it for me). Takes up a large amount of my day’s allowance of public bravery that I am capable of! Anyway, here’s to feeling less guilty for the love of wifi!

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  • As a fellow early adopter I thank you for this! I have always been a bit of a techno geek and I love the internet and yes, I am also quite addicted to it. Now I feel a little better about that πŸ™‚ While I am not an introvert and actual people interaction is important for me, this is where I love to come back to after those interactions, to share the experiences through photo journaling. Oh, and all the information at our finger tips, how amazing, I don’t ever want to be without that again. Thank you!

  • I don’t think we could turn back even if we wanted too and frankly I also like being connected to the internet 24/7. It’s wonderful to be able to talk to people who live on the other side of the world. However, I do sometimes need to reign internet time in, as I forget about my own life and get caught to much in others. It’s important to make the time for my own life and friends and family. Xx Eline

  • armn

    Ha! Found someone in a similar situation as me.I have social anxiety as well and finds solace when I’m alone in my room like a hermit. And very very dependent on internet. Thanks for the post. Much love XD

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