Caught in a drift Net

I have been caught in a drift net. Like a helpless dolphin (only not as cute) I have been stuck with my face pressed up against the net, held there by the fast flowing information pouring over me – rendering me inert. Eventually my senses dulled, and even the will to struggle was lost.

Psychology studies have shown that rats who are regularly rewarded for pressing a lever will give up on the lever as soon as the reward disappears. Interestingly, rats who are only intermittently rewarded will keep pressing the lever almost indefinitely after the rewards disappear – sometimes reaching a frenzy of frantic lever pressing – with desperate optimism that this time the reward will return.

Well just call me Dr Ratty. (Rodent I may be, but I’m a rodent with a PhD, and I’ll thank you not to forget it!)

The internet is my rat pellet reward. Email from a friend. A choice item of news on The Age website. A funny status update on a friend’s facebook profile.  A quick check on the readership stats on my blog. An interesting blog somewhere else.  It didn’t take much to keep me pressing that lever. The best pellets were personal – a mention on a friend’s blog (positive, of course) – or an emotional connection via email. But even these were strangely hollow and temporary, causing me to gobble the pellet, pause, smile briefly, and then go back to frantically jiggling that lever up and down, in the hope of another reward in my little ratty inbox.

It used to be that a spot of free time would see me calling a friend on the phone, going for a walk, reading an interesting (paper!) book or magazine, or getting something done around the house. Now my free time is spent largely hitting that refresh link, hoping for a new pellet.

Recently I had a birthday. I got a few birthday wishes on my wall, a few more in email, and more by sms, and not one of them left me feeling loved and connected. In startling contrast, I received one phone call from some old friends (lest I get hit, I must point out that we have been friends for some time. They are in no way old.). The call was challenging – kids were creating distractions on both ends of the line – but that immensely higher bandwidth left me with a much stronger sense of who had just called and why were are still friends. I have been just as guilty of facebook birthday greetings as the next person (in fact more so, since the next person is my husband, who doesn’t even have a facebook account – astounding, isn’t it?).  And I have slowly become more depressed, more isolated, and much less connected with the people I love.

It has finally dawned on me that all these pellets were, at best, emotional junk food. At worst, that lever was the handle on my depression. So I have boldly gone cold turkey. No, I have not trashed my email accounts (it’s clearly a bad sign that they are plural) or revoked my facebook access. Instead I have a new rule – email access happens once a day, and then the browser is closed. I am allowed to access the internet to look something up, or make a specific contact with a particular urgent aim. But by and large, I am going to upgrade the bandwidth of my communications.

Need to ask a friend a question? I’m going to call them. Want to wish a friend happy birthday? No more quick scribbles on their facebook wall. I’m going to call, or maybe even drop by. Not necessarily on the day (I’m a parent, life doesn’t often go to plan), but soon. More coffee, more talking, more looking into people’s eyes and reaching into their souls.  Oh, and more writing. Possibly even more blog posts, but they’ll be hit and run affairs. I’m off to pull the plug. See you!

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6 thoughts on “Caught in a drift Net

  1. Michael

    I’ve noticed this too, in myself and people around me.

    I think the emotional junk-food observation is a particularly insightful one. I guess this is the problem with constant, always-on internet connectivity — I’m writing this via a wireless connection on a US domestic flight.

    Maybe we should coin these activities “fast-feed”, a sort of amalgamation of fast-food and RSS feeds. Like junk-food, they are definitely addictive, but ultimately unsatisfying. And as such, I think I shall now close the laptop and read my book!

  2. Rebecca

    I love junk food then because I think it is better! If I didn’t have facebook I wouldn’t have any contact at all with my family so I for one think it is great.
    And I actually, strangely, sometimes prefer a nice little “Someone likes your status” to a difficult conversation which rarely if ever ends well. “Someone” knows I am alive. That’s enough for me.

  3. lindamciver

    Don’t misunderstand me – I love facebook. It has many uses. And it does maintain a degree of connection. But it is no substitute for face to face contact. I totally agree it is better in some cases. :) But it’s when it totally takes the place of face to face or phone contact that was really satisfying that it feels rather hollow and empty.

  4. I don’t know If I said it already but …Excellent site, keep up the good work. I read a lot of blogs on a daily basis and for the most part, people lack substance but, I just wanted to make a quick comment to say I’m glad I found your blog. Thanks, :)

    A definite great read..Jim Bean

  5. Wish I had a buck for all the friends who are in the same head space. We have definitely come to realize that technology has gotten the better of us.

    I ditched twitter for that reason – honestly do I care to get updates from friends’ iPods while they’re in the supermarket? Do they really care what TV I’m watching? Plus sound-byte news is dangerous, so I went cold turkey there.

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