Internet Fatigue (and the burden of Insta-Love)

The Internet is a powerful, benevolent sorceress, providing me with seemingly countless ways to connect, share, be informed/educated, debate, communicate, and take action. The Internet is also a time-sucking witch, providing me with seemingly endless ways to procrastinate and act like a crazy person. When I signed up with Facebook in 2007, I never expected “Facebook creeping” to become not only a verb all its own, but an acceptable way to pass the time when bored at work, home, or on your smartphone (I feel like prior to Facebook’s inception, going through someone’s photo albums without being explicitly granted permission would be, well, creepy).

In so many ways, of course, the Internet has made my life faster and easier. Internet banking. Google maps. Buying tickets online. E-mail. But it has also added tasks to my daily routine: checking my e-mail (all three accounts, though I actually have four active, not counting the one I check at work), checking Facebook for anything amusing, checking Twitter for mentions, checking my WordPress stats to see if people actually read my blog or whether I’m just shouting into the darkness.

Checking. Always checking. It’s not an action with a clear purpose, like “Buy groceries and then you’ll have food” or “Pay your utility bill and you’ll continue to enjoy electricity.” It’s just….checking. To see. If there’s something I should pay attention to. Mostly, for the little hit of insta-love I feel every time someone mentions me on Twitter or likes something I’ve said/done/posted on Facebook. Somehow not quite ever satisfied that I’m liked enough to last me the next twenty minutes.

Facebook and Twitter give us an easy and tangible way to measure whether or not we (and our thoughts/actions) have the approval of our friends and acquaintances, and to share our enjoyment and approval of our friends with them. But the flip side of this instant love is instant failure. When we post something on Twitter that we think is especially funny/clever/important, and no one responds, we feel a loss. When we post on someone’s Facebook wall and they don’t reply, we feel bad. Instead of the little hits of insta-love I’ve come to savour, I feel the anxious prickles of insta-failure.

I assume I am not the only one who feels this, or has noticed the coping mechanism many of us seem to use. We distance ourselves from our online personas to the point that we become a brand of ourselves. Our successes and failures online aren’t the successes and failures of us personally, but only of the version of ourselves we’ve chosen to share. I myself consider my Twitter account to be an extension of some entity called “NiftyNotCool” which is a part of me, but usually not enough of me to make me feel personally vulnerable. Even under this persona, of course I prefer to receive insta-love.

Before you diagnose me as someone with poor self-esteem who depends on the approval of the Internet to feel good about herself, let me assure you that I’m not. I think I have the average healthy amounts of confidence and humility that make me, hopefully, not a total chore to be around. But there’s no denying that having people respond to you in a positive manner feels good, and being ignored does not. While the Internet provides us with so many more ways to respond and be responded to, it also provides us with more ways to be ignored. Though the emotional toll this insta-love/insta-failure takes on me is minor, its constant presence in my life is wearing me out.

Which is why I’ve been taking a partial break from my Facebook and Twitter identities. With so many things I want to learn and do and share, it feels good to shut out the noise and take some time to appreciate the aspects of my life that aren’t online. Brunch with friends. Reading in the sun. A nice walk through an East Van neighbourhood in full bloom.

Which is not to say that I haven’t gained enormously from reaching out online. My world has become so much larger since I embarked on this “nifty not cool” adventure last fall. I’ve met amazingly talented, warm, and generous people. I got to blog the PuSh Fest, see some great performances with people I met on Twitter, and eat possibly the best beer-butt BBQ chicken I have ever had (courtesy of Candice at Baked In Vancouver). Every time somebody tells me they have read or enjoyed a post of mine, I feel so flattered and grateful and tickled pink that I know my enthusiasm cements my “not-cool” status forever.

Internet fatigue or no Internet fatigue, as long as we have electricity, our online lives are here to stay. As much as I complain, I am happy to know every single one of the great people I’ve met in the past six months, and to them, I say this: you guys are awesome. The conversations we’re having are great. But the idea of another night with my laptop makes me want to throw it in the Inlet. The sun is starting to shine on Vancouver, and I’d rather hang out with y’all on a patio. Whaddaya say?

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9 thoughts on “Internet Fatigue (and the burden of Insta-Love)

  1. There was a study done recently on high school-aged individuals who were to go without technology (internet, phone) for something like 2 days. They exhibited withdrawal symptoms (think: “crack cocaine”) and a large number gave in and “cheated”….. I have become much, much worse since getting my iphone…

    • I can believe it. There’s a reason people call Blackberries “Crackberries”. It’s not just a clever play on words. There’s a lot of truth there. There’s also a reason I haven’t bought a smart phone yet (and it’s not just because I’m cheap).

  2. Here’s your bit of insta-love–excellent blog! You’re wise to be cautious about how much social networking you do, and even though most people are aware that it’s addictive they still get hooked and find themselves spending ever more precious time hunched over their laptops and phones, and uneasy any time they are away from it for a few hours. That’s sad, and dangerous. The next big revolutionary social movement will have to be the one that gets addicts off Facebook and Twitter. (As Lennon once said, “Imagine”.) I think maybe I should start investing in withdrawal camps, helping campers go cold turkey even for just a couple weeks and teaching the art and skill of social networking without computers. Maybe we could call it “Facetoface”. Radical concept. Like Fatcamps, a product of a society with too much of a good thing and enslaved by convenience and immediate gratification. How can we restore balance to our lives?

  3. I seriously don’t feel guilty about my computer usage at all. I’m a stay at home mom. This is totally my way to get socialization with adults throughout the day. Approval is part of it, but for me… a lot of it is combating the loneliness.
    My days require, mostly, that I stay at home. When I am, I’m online all day… but I’m also getting other stuff done. And you’re right. Checking. Checking. Checking. And sometimes it’s stuff like “like’s” that I’m checking for, and other times it’s just a glimpse into the outside world to remind myself that I’m not alone.
    But it will NEVER get in the way of me going out to play if I would rather. 🙂

    Great, thought provoking post.

    • Thanks Lindsay,

      I certainly can’t pass any judgement on people (or ask someone to feel guilty) for things I do so often myself. And yes, absolutely, there are times in my life (and I’m sure future parenthood may be one of them) when social media is a very useful tool for keeping in touch with the outside world and avoiding cabin fever. However, as Bill (previous commenter) says, there must be a way to restore a little bit of balance. I think you and I are lucky because we did grow up and form an identity for ourselves before social media existed, but I do worry about people going through their teens right now who may be placing more importance on how they represent themselves online and less on how they behave as a person in real life.

      It’s an ongoing negotiation for me certainly, though now that the weather is starting to improve I’m definitely spending more time outside.

  4. I’ve never thought of it like that (insta-love/ insta-fail) before… Granted, we’re looking for approval from people around us all the time, so it’s inevitable that it’s translated onto our online identity. I take comfort in connecting with people on the ‘net not because I can’t connect with people face-to-face, but that it’s undoubtedly more convenient sometimes (given time & location, i.e. best friend on the other side of the country)… and “seeing” other people are there, too, makes me feel less alone in the world. Ironic and, frankly, a little sad, isn’t it?

    • by the way, you articulate your thoughts so well! I’ve been looking over at my old posts (because I was sure I’ve mentioned this internet phenom before), and sure enough, the issue you’re examining at hand pops up a little in most of my recent posts…

    • I suppose it can be sad if it’s used as a replacement for real interaction…but uses you’ve mentioned (like staying in touch with people who live far away) are important and really are the Internet at its best, I think.

  5. Pingback: Philanthropy, Attention, and Intention | niftynotcool

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