Reclaiming my brain from the internet age
My insatiable consumption of online information has taken a toll on my mind and habits, and now it’s time to do something about it, writes UNA MULLALLY
IN NICHOLAS CARR’S 2010 book The Shallows, the author writes: “Over the last few years I’ve had an uncomfortable sense that someone, or something, has been tinkering with my brain, remapping the neural circuitry, reprogramming the memory.”
When I read those words, I felt an odd mix of solidarity and foreboding. It was real. In these early stages of analysing the impact the internet is having on our brains, Carr’s book is a landmark. Since reading it, I’ve examined my own over-reliance on technology, which went from habitual to detrimental. I know I’m not alone, but sometimes ignorance is bliss, because when I realised the impact the internet has on my brain, I couldn’t shake the thought that I’ll never get my old mind back.
This month, “internet-use disorder” was added to the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, or the DSM, a book that’s the international psychiatric manual. And if we examine our own behaviour, I believe a huge number of people are somewhere on the spectrum of this modern condition.
It started when web 2.0 came along, as the internet changed from a static information feed to a shape-shifting, user-generated open community. And then social networking came along, the dark matter in this new universe that changed everything all over again.
The real surge in my compulsive and frazzled use of technology came last year when the Sunday Tribune closed and I went freelance. Working from home, with no office chats or colleagues to bounce ideas off, the majority of my interactions moved online. Twitter was my watercooler. And the nature of freelancing as a job is entirely different to being a staff writer. Because ideas are your currency, you must consume a monumental amount of information every week, knowing everything from the ins and outs of the Children’s Referendum to the quality of the new album from The xx.
You need to be able to spot trends as they are germinating, recognise the next big thing when it’s just a small thing, and know the irony behind whatever meme peaks on a given Wednesday. Very quickly, information consumption overtakes real interaction. Whole days might go by when your conversations are conducted solely over email, phone, text, and Twitter. And then, gradually, you can’t turn it off.
As children, we were told not to sit in front of the TV all day, to put the Nintendo down, and go outside and get some fresh air. Yet as adults, we are amplifying those bad habits, staring at screens in work, staring at phones on the bus, staring at iPads at home.