Thinking more about the Internet

I’ve been thinking a bit more about the Internet and my own relationship to it, which is now 20 years in.  It began with email and newsgroups and talk and expanded with the web, IRC, blogging, and gaming.  It is a key way I communicate and interact with people.  Back in 1996, when I was at home with Geeky Boy, unemployed and mostly bored out of my mind, I logged onto the school-provided modem and started surfing the web for parenting information.  I landed at a site called “Parent Soup,” which I know some others of you out there participated in back in the day.  The best part about this site was it’s IRC chat.  In real time, I could carry on conversations with other parents.  It was a godsend.  I had no car and no real connections, being new to the neighborhood.  It staved off loneliness and boredom, and was something I participated in for several years.  I even met some of the people from those chats in real life.

But it was no substitute for face-to-face connections.  I still needed those, and still do.  For me, there’s just something that feels different about having face-to-face friends, people I can run into at the store or that hang out at my house for dinner.  Typically, when I lack those connections, I have turned to the Internet to fill in the gap.  And I think that can be a positive thing.  It can keep me from feeling too disconnected.  But one can also invest too much in those online connections.  Back in the Parent Soup days, I know there was a time when I got too involved and felt myself neglecting the people around me.  I did the same with blogging a few years ago.  While I know that real friendships can form online and many of the people I interact with online are people I’ve met, there’s something lacking, for me, in those online interactions.  And favoring those over the more immediate relationships with my family and friends has not always been a good thing for me.

The thing is, the Geeky family is relatively social, but we’re also prone to letting inertia set in rather than schedule time with friends and family (I’m talking to you Mr. Geeky).  As we’ve gotten better about that, I’ve felt my online interactions normalize.  It’s easy to step away from the computer when you have things to step away from the computer to.  I think that’s why gaming hasn’t led to the neglectful attitude that IRC and blogging did.  And, I think I learned something from those prior instances.  I recognize now when I’m starting to drift away.

There’s still the issue of the Internet as a source of stimulation, apart from the people.  Most of my work is done on the computer, some with some without the Internet.  But the Internet is there: email, twitter, Facebook.  It’s almost always in the background.  So, I think I’m going to challenge myself.  On Monday, I’m going Internet-free.  Mostly.  For business reasons, I still need to check email, but I will do that only 3 times–morning, noon, and 5 p.m.  Otherwise, no online newspaper, no Twitter, no Facebook, no gaming.  I asked Mr. Geeky if he could do it, and he said, sure, I’d go camping or something.  And I said, yes, but could you do it if you had access to it and chose not to access it.  And he said, Umm, why would I do that?

I’m not trying to say the Internet is bad, but I think it’s good to examine how much one relies on the Internet and for what purposes.  Is it to keep your brain occupied, to avoid housework (ahem), or because you can’t think of anything better to do?  And I think there are other things in our lives–cars, electricity–that are worth abstaining from in order to recognize how much we depend on them.  Of course I’ll be reporting on the experience.  And if you’d like to join in, feel free to!