Wednesday, November 22, 2017

Use The Internet, Don't Let It Use You!

The internet can be very useful to you, or it can be something that uses you.

In a recent posting, I sarcastically opined that Apple was the most evil company in the world and in fact was run by alien replicants, who were building a flying saucer, so they could fly back to their home planet.  Apparently this message resonates with people other than myself.  A recent article in the New York Times opines that Tech is perhaps become evil.

More and more people are noticing that social media, smartphones, the internet are being combined in a witche's brew to addict people.  By providing incremental amounts of positive feedback, the powers-that-be can get us coming back again and again to various sites, or constantly pawing at our phones, hoping for that one little rush of dopamine that we so desperately crave.

But like anything else, it depends on how you use it.  Granted, there are some drugs that cannot be used responsibly.   I recall someone trying to tell me that they had a responsible meth habit -  however they had lost their job, career, and a small business in the process.  And of course opiates are turning out to be something that can be instantly addictive and very hard to kick.

Maybe other drugs, less so.  While I'm not a big fan of marijuana, as it seems to suck the willpower from people and make them feel sorry for themselves, many people smoke pot and hold jobs and are "functional" in that they at least support themselves and pay their bills.  And a large number of people in this country drink alcohol without serious adverse effect.

This is not to say that people don't become alcoholics or end up killing others in drunk driving accidents.  Or that some folks become "chronic" marijuana users and retreat to their parents' basement or the equivalent thereof.   There are some drugs which are very destructive no matter how hard you try to control your usage of them, and others than can be used somewhat responsibly.

In terms of electronic drugs, however, you have to weigh the benefits with the costs.   And that's why I say that cable TeeVee is a horrible bargain.   It is very, very addictive, costing you hours of your life every day in channel-surfing.  And the payoff is just not there.  "500 channels and nothing on" goes the refrain, and that is the reason I unplugged from Cable TV - it just wasn't a value proposition, costing close to (or over) $100 a month, taking up a lot of my time, and providing no real benefit to me.

The internet, when used responsibly, however, can be useful to you, and in fact be beneficial.   You can work over the internet and make money - legitimately.   You can send business e-mails and communicate with clients.  You can do business over the Internet - file documents with government agencies, check your bank balances, or your investments, file your taxes, or whatever.

You can also find good bargains online, if you look.   And yes, you can communicate with friends and family and interact with others.

But like any other drug, it depends on how you use it.   If you find a bargain on the Internet for something that you want and need, then that is a good thing.   On the other hand, if you become a compulsive shopper on Amazon or eBay - just buying junk for the hell of it - you could ruin your financial life.  And people have done this - and articles have been written about it.  I've known personally, people who went on spending sprees on eBay and Amazon, to the point where their spouse had to hide the credit cards (lot of good that did, with one-click purchasing!).  One lady I know bought a car on eBay during a fugue state.

Similarly, keeping in touch with friends is fine and all, but getting sucked into a four-hour-a-day Facebook and texting habit can be destructive to you personally.   And a huge number of people are indeed sucked into this.  Not only is it a huge time-waster, it has little or no payback.  You can always tell when you are talking to "facebook people" as they tend to believe wild urban legends and "fake news" stories planted by the Russians.  "It was in my 'feed' so it has to be true, right?"

Similarly, compulsive texting is a self-destructive habit.  Not only is it a time-waster, it can literally kill you if you try to do it while driving (or worse yet, kill others, like me).   Again, the payback is kind of slim - the idea that you should carry on these abbreviated and awkward conversations by text with people all day long is, well, kind of dumb.

But few people have the personal willpower and strength to use facebook, twitter, texting, or other forms of social media in moderation.   Most people are like drunks, and cannot say "no" after just one beer, or one text or one facebook "like".

And this is why I am not on facebook - the temptation to check it constantly to see what is going on would be too much.  It becomes a real time-waster and I didn't like who I became on facebook. Moreover, I didn't like who other people became on facebook.   Whether it was a friend sending me pictures of every meal he ate or another friend posting sarcastic comments on my photos, it seems that it is all-too-easy to become an asshole on facebook - just as people can become assholes after three or four drinks.

And the same is true for Twitter, which the media is obsessed about.  I have read hundreds and hundreds of "tweets" but have never been on Twitter.  The media reports tweets obsessively.  And usually - 99% of the time, it is because someone lost their job, career, or spouse, because of something stupid they said on Twitter.   Others, like our President, are wholly addicted and cannot control themselves on the platform - saying one stupid thing after another.   President Trump is like a drunk - he can't have just one Tweet, he has to slam the six-pack.

So I'm not on Twitter, either.  And quite frankly, I don't bother reading news stories anymore where the central premise of the story is what someone said on Twitter.   Who the fuck cares, really?

And it is why I don't have texting enabled on my phone, either (that and I only pay $100 a year for service, which doesn't include texting, and I'm cheap!).   It is nice, sometimes, to be able to get texts.  The bank will text me if something is up - I have them text to Mark's phone.   He has the service on his phone, and I can see firsthand how he gets sucked into it sometimes.  But he is trying to be a responsible drunk with the texting - at least so far.

You can tell if someone is addicted to Facebook, or Twitter, or Texting or whatever other form of social disease media.   And it is very simple to tell.   If someone sends you a text or a tweet or a facebook posting and gets pissed off if you don't respond within a matter of minutes, odds are the sender is addicted.   They just assume that everyone else on the planet is glued to their smartphone 24/7 and is waiting breathlessly for the latest messages.   The idea that someone might turn their smartphone off or not carry it with them at all times (two things I routinely do) is not even plausible to them.

And the funny thing, too, is that this technology is only about a decade old, its current level of penetration even less.  The majority of Americans have been texting, tweeting, and facebooking for only a few years now - but you would think it has been around since the dawn of time, from the way people treat these things.   And it is one reason why I doubt the staying power of much of this stuff - it is not that old, and other things came before it, and other things will come after it as well.   But of course, when that happens, we will all say we saw it coming or say, "facebook? what was that?" - much as we do today about MySpace, even if we had an account with them only a few years back.

The Internet, smartphones, social media - they are all electronic drugs, or inter-related electronic drugs that can harm you, personally, physically, and financially.   Check out the physique and health of anyone who spends all day online - it isn't pretty, and it is one reason our generation has a shorter life expectancy that the previous one.  The sedentary lifestyle is simply toxic.

Use the internet - but don't let it use you.  Think long and hard about the benefits you are getting from tweeting and facebooking and texting, and then weigh them with the costs.   Odds are, most of this stuff is just wasting your time and making you unhappy and depressed.

But it is making other people an awful lot of money.