It is often said that the internet is a cold and superficial place.
I tend to agree.
Even though we can connect with practically anyone, anywhere at any time, it doesn’t make us less lonely or more engaged.
If anything, the online universe is a distant world in which reality is observed instead of experienced. A world that I find increasingly trivial, and uninspiring.
It is a shallow hideout for the self-absorbed, the self-promotors, and for those dying to be distracted.
Do you want to see Jennifer Aniston test the incredible vibrating bra? Her video went viral, and has almost 17 million hits.
Do you want to watch Teddy Bear the porcupine predict the winner of the Super Bowl? Be my guest!
And speaking of that Bowl, Kim Kardashian West’s T-Mobile commercial is already an internet sensation, well before the big game has started.
Some say that this is utterly insignificant, but I urge you to pay attention to what the masses are watching. It tells us something about people’s priorities: football and bouncing bosoms!
And I don’t even like football…
For many years, I have been downplaying the effect the world wide web has on my life, but it has become this huge black hole that doesn’t like to be ignored. I couldn’t do my job without it, but that doesn’t mean I like it.
Even though I spent many years in a newsroom, I find it harder and harder to separate online fact from opinion, information from propaganda, and sincerity from sales. Part of that has to do with the sheer volume of slick and seductive online messages I am bombarded with on any given day. I cannot properly process it anymore. My brain goes in overload, and when that happens, it loses its critical focus.
Thankfully, I still control what I allow myself to be exposed to, and for how long. Nobody tells me how many hours a day I should spend on social media. No one forces me to watch silly videos on YouTube. I can still lead a happy, balanced life without the wonders of WiFi.
Or am I kidding myself?
As you may know, I just spent eleven days abroad. The high-speed internet connection we thought we would have in our apartment, wasn’t there. So, every day we went to the nearest Hotspot to get access to the online world. Its epicenter turned out to be in the freezer section of a nearby supermarket.
Every morning, my wife and I sat down with our devices, surrounded by ice cream, pizzas, TV dinners, frozen vegetables, and frantic shoppers.
I’ll tell you one thing. Putting a Hotspot in one of the coldest places forces a person to use his time efficiently, and effectively. You should try it!
I surprised myself by how little effort it took to dump all the fluff, and get down to business. And once our online business was done, there was a whole day left to live life offline.
We walked. We talked. We connected with people in person.
We had wonderful dinners, instead of watching cooking shows.
We explored interesting sites, instead of websites.
We survived over a week without internet trolls trying to sell us stuff, and feeding us fluff.
Yes, at times being offline was mighty inconvenient, but boy did I love this digital detox! I could get so much done in very little time, and I didn’t have to stare at a screen all day long. Why did I only do this while I was out of the country?
Back home I began to limit all the electronic time suckers that used to drain the energy out of my days. I unsubscribed from automatic updates, boring groups, newsletters, and blogs I never had the time to read anyway.
I deleted half of my Facebook contacts, only to keep close friends, family members, and the people in and around the town I live in. For those interested in my voice-over work, there’s always the Nethervoice page.
And this is barely the beginning.
Liberating myself from all the impersonal online crap and clutter feels phenomenal! As I said in my very first line: “the internet is a cold and superficial place.” If you’re hoping to find true companionship, collegiality, and connection, you better look elsewhere.
That’s obviously an overgeneralization, and life simply isn’t that simple. How do I know that?
Because of YOU!
Even though we never met in person, or we may know each other only professionally, you were there for me when I recently wrote about the death of my father.
Shortly after that, I received hundreds of messages from all over the world. Some of you even sent cards and flowers. Your comforting words gave me strength, and touched me and my family deeply. Your thoughtfulness, your prayers, and your support traveled with us to the Netherlands, right to my father’s funeral.
When the moment came to deliver the eulogy, I wasn’t sure I’d be able to do it. I had imagined myself doing it, but this was different. This was the final farewell.
Right before it was my time to speak, I thought of all the things that you had written. This really moved me. As something lifted me out of my seat, I suddenly felt calm and determined. I walked towards the lectern, took a deep breath, and started to speak.
Thank you so much for caring!
Thank you for showing me that the medium we use to connect, is just a tool. Like any other tool, its use and impact depends on the integrity, the emotions, and intelligence (or lack thereof) of the people using it.
May we all use it wisely, creatively, sparingly, and caringly.
Paul Strikwerda ©nethervoice
PS Be sweet. Please retweet!
photo credit: solomonborxes via photopin cc
Johnny George says
How very insightful Paul. Appreciate your sensitivity. Thank you for sharing.
Conchita Congo says
Digital Detox! Love it! A very insightful article,Paul. I will doing some Digital Stream lining for sure. I find the Internet to be such valuable tool for networking & educating myself while I hone my skills. Reading your blog posts is one of the most valuable to me. So for me, it’s stream lining,not detoxing.
Kevin Scheuller says
As someone who had to deliver a similar eulogy a little over 8 years ago, your words today really hit home. Of course, your words often hit home for many. That is why we keep coming back. I’m glad you had some unplugged time to enjoy the beauty of the Netherlands and your friends and family in your homeland.
Mike Harrison says
Paul, I’m very glad the world wide web has allowed you to share your thoughts with us, and that it also allowed people from all around the globe to offer you support when you needed it. It really is remarkable. When we were children, we never would’ve thought this would be possible… and so easily.
Sadly, the web is also fraught with controversy, in that some will believe pretty much anything they read and, on the other side of the coin, others will immediately doubt the veracity of anything gleaned from it. It shouldn’t be called this, but the “trick” to distinguishing fact from mere opinion is to learn the education and/or background of those publishing what’s being read. Look for the “About Us” link on websites. If there isn’t one, try another site. If we wouldn’t ask a complete stranger on the street for a medical diagnosis or investment advice, why would we willingly accept information on the internet as truth without knowing the qualifications of those offering it?
As for the social media sites, that they allow (real-time) interaction is terrific. And, as we’ve seen, people use it to exchange everything from cat photos and recipes to political commentary and… hatred, unfortunately.
My personal biggest disappointment over the internet is, of those using social media to market their businesses, that it allows anyone to appoint themselves an “expert” in any given field. While a good chunk of what folks offer in the way of recommendations based on prior experience, inspirational quotations and such is marvelous and quite helpful, all too often the information others dispense is either completely untrue or generalized useless fluff designed only to get the author’s name out in front of others. When the reader doesn’t check the qualifications of the author, and the information offered is false, not only is it not helpful, it could be downright disastrous. So, as we have come to change the TV channel when commercials come on, we will also soon tire of the endless tide of online self-promotion, too.
But let’s hope that the positivity of being connected will help keep us more grounded and united as people and not turn our lives into an endless cold and soulless distraction.
Thank you, Paul, for being a source of always thought-provoking commentary.
Paul Payton says
First, I apologize for mising news of your father’s passing, call it inbox overload combined with vacation plus a burst of work. Obviously, my sympathies go out to you and your family.
Next, I really appreciate the thoughtfulness and insight of your posts. I am resolved as well to do some digital housecleaning so that important stuff (like your blog) leaps out more prominently.
I also appreciate the astuteness of your commenters (Mike Harrison’s response is a perfect example), even on the occasions when they don’t agree, they offer constructive counter-thoughts, not the kind of troll reactionary-ism so many exhibit elsewhere.
You have given me the impetus to move “digital de-cluttering” up the priority list. I’ve already responded to Facebook Overload by ignoring it, and every personal non-radical-right political post I’ve seen there seems to be haunted by “designated trolls” who only want to get under people’s skin, so that activity has fallen off the charts. My recent vacation included three visits to friends around the country who I’ve know for decades, not just years, and with whom contact has been made recently mostly by e-mail or phone; it was a treat and a blessing to see who we have become and how we continue to evolve. (And you, sir, are less than an hour down the highway, it would seem that more face-time would be in order, too.)
So again, Paul, thank you for the thoughtful post. I now have my marching orders and reoriented priorities. “Feet, start movin’!”
Sally Blake says
The de-cluttering in one’s life really does take a load off. There is something freeing about the process. Thank you for sharing how you got through the eulogy. It warmed my heart. Welcome Home!
Rick Lance says
As you said Paul, the internet is a great tool… to be used or abused. You can use your tools or they can use you.
Glad to hear you had a chance to get back to that 3rd world country, in the deep freeze you call the Netherlands.
Just kidding, of course. Actually, I consider you to be very lucky to have that kind of sanctuary to visit to and be reminded of a simpler place.
Again, so sorry about your father’s passing. But I’m sure you were comforted by the eulogy you were able to give for him there.
Christopher Black says
When Pat and I go for our summer vacation, it’s a small island off the coast of Maine. Just before hoping on the ferry, I pop the simcard out of my phone, and leave it in the car, on the mainland. Been doing this for three years, very restorative.
Kent Ingram says
Today marks two months, since my dad passed away, and I appreciate all your words, Paul, as they gave me some comfort and the knowledge I wasn’t going through this all alone. Yes, the cyberworld can, indeed, be a sterile, empty place and there’s a lot of folks who show faux concern when you bare your soul. There’s also a lot of very concerned, thoughtful folks who we can connect with, despite the physical distances. As with anything, being judicious with the internet is always a good thing. It’ll never replace the physical contact we have with people. Thanks!
Pearl Hewitt says
You’re so right Paul. We sometimes need to live without technology of all kinds for a few days to remember who we are and to reinforce how we should be living our lives. As with most things in life we need to get the balance right. Too much of anything is never good for us. The Internet, smartphones, tablets and computers drain the life out of us. Being sucked it to a bad habit of sitting in front of the TV every evening is another life-enrichment killer! I loved your comment that you cooked some great food instead of watching cooking shows. That definitely spoke to me! Thank you for your thoughts once again. I regularly find myself quietly nodding as I read your blog. You always project very true and interesting observations of life. 🙂
dc goode says
GREAT article. I have been living and “preaching” on these issues for close to a decade…and although being vindicated (to some degree) is a mixed blessing; this wisdom should be heeded by MANY!
“The internet WILL break your brain. UNPLUG and have a life” dc
Shelley Avellino says
Wow….once again a great read Paul. Your blogs are so “real” and I’m with Pearl on the whole sentence, we did some great cooking, instead of watching cooking shows! Just awesome. I too am trying to detox a little of the ole technology daily burden and your blog has just spurred me on even more! I know it was probably a very hard and sad time being back home, but at least the time, gave you the chance to do this amazing digital detox, so something positive also came out of the visit!! I am always so grateful for the time you take to write these amazing articles…Thank you from the bottom of my heart…!!