After years of effort to spend less time online, and an intense loathing for the digital world, I still remain entranced by its trappings of entertainment, novelty, and escape.
The Internet hasn’t been enjoyable since 2016. It’s as if somebody programmed it with a set of scripts, on repeat on an endless loop, and forgot the code to make changes. It’s been the same ol’ mind-numbingly boring storyline for years now, and yet I can’t look away. I can’t resist the Internet.
I take the blame, but only partially. Yes, there is so much more to the Internet than the same boring bits regurgitated on Reddit, but there’s a reason we spend around three hours a day on social media, and not learning a new language on the Duolingo app: one is irresistible, the other- well, it requires effort.
When it’s blocked off, put away— out of sight, out of mind, I don’t desire it. I don’t look for it. But once it’s accessible, available, present, all bets are off. I can’t resist a good hour or two spent mindlessly scrolling through information I won’t remember merely a moment later. What was the joke I just read that was funny? Who knows, who cares; there’s more where that came from— scroll, scroll, scroll.
What makes something that has lost its appeal half a decade ago and brings less joy than a stick of celery still irresistible?
It’s easily accessible.
The world lives rent free in our pockets.
We carry around the opinions billions of people, an endless stream of information from around the globe, and the ability to contribute to said opinions and information of the digital space 24/7/365. It’s present everywhere, ubiquitous, universal, boundless, and infinite, it’s omnipresent— no, not God, the Internet.
Naturally, we reach for our smartphones- unlock, tap, scroll, tap, scroll, tap, tap, lock- about 58 times a day. Its accessibility makes it overwhelmingly alluring to want it and play with it constantly. It’s simply there. But accessibility is only a small part of what makes the Internet and our devices so irresistible. Our ID cards live rent free in our pockets, or purse, too and we don’t check for them 58 times a day.
Everyone is online.
Humans are noisy.
We can pretend all day long we don’t care about what other people are doing, saying, having, but there is a reason billions of people spend hours a day on social media. It’s embedded in our DNA to know what others are doing, saying, having; it’s been a good tactic for humans to stay tightly attached to thy tribe since we started living communally.
What has changed is the tribe has gone digital. Not being on social media and other social platforms is on par with not existing at all— at least socially. Want to find the best person to date? You need an app for that. Want to connect with the people around you? There’s an app for that. Want to know what the best show to watch is? Well, there is an app for that, too.
Everyone is doing things, saying things, and having opinions about said things, but online. The best way to be in the know, and be part of the tribe, is to be right where everyone is— online. It’s hard to resist our deepest human desire to be part of a community. It’s just that now it’s online, and that makes the online world irresistible.
Everything is online.
And, there is an app for that, too!
You know what makes your morning coffee better? An app to reward you for your excellent brand loyalty. Want to stay in the know of the latest clothing brands and deals? Download the app. Need groceries? Why not download an app plus free shipping? Time to write your will? You bet, there is an app for that too!
Living has become tapping; tap this app and then that one. Tap, tap, tap, tap, tap; maddening, but deliciously convenient. Of course we don’t have to download an app, not yet anyway. But once everything resides in the app store, and our devices become our lives, what will be our choice then? It’s impossible to resist technology that dictates a large portion of our days, and by extension our lives.
We are bored.
The Internet is boring, but have you tried being offline?
The only thing worse than a brain-dead Internet binge at three in the morning is facing your existential boredom— or ennui, at any point in the day. It’s part-personal, part-social problem. If you’re not online, or don’t want to be online, your entertainment options are: 1) very limited, and/or 2) require a lot more effort to make happen. Bowling alone is possible, but what is the fun in that?
So the default option becomes time spent online. One can spend a lifetime being entertained online— maybe not having fun, but certainly it’s passive enough with the promise of something funny, something novel, something interesting happening anytime soon. You just have to be patient and keep scrolling. It’s easy and better than the alternative: *gasp!* boredom.
A sad conclusion.
There are not many viable alternatives left to irresistible technologies that have devoured our social and personal lives. The longer we get used to tech as extension of our lives, and the more ubiquitous it becomes, the harder it will be to even consider alternatives to our tech-immersed living.
The self-imposed alternatives are costly. Deleting social media can be social suicide. Switch to a flip-phone and getting around becomes a nightmare. The offline world takes too much effort in a very convenient world; it’s still very possible, but very costly.
There is also too much money in irresistible technologies to hope for a better tech future. If it’s not addictive, it’s not profitable. If it’s not profitable, it’s not a consideration. There is a battle for our attention, and in turn our humanity, and we are losing.
Until next time,
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