Monday 15 December 2014

Being on the internet is a journey; it's not the destination.

Most days, my eyes are open at 6:00 am. Then I get up anywhere from 6:30 onwards and spend 5 to 10 minutes outside just looking at the scenery (there's lots of trees, bushes and flora to take in) , breathing in the air and quietly observing the silence. This is then followed by 90 minutes of quiet yoga/meditation, after which it's the usual; Clean up and a shower, then I'm on with the day.

Like most people, a portion of my working day (sometimes, it's even the weekends) consists of a robust amount of internet activity. Some of it is creative work, which includes writing articles, reports, and conceptualisation/research for projects. The rest of it is a combination of social media, ad-hoc emails, the odd purchase/window shopping, and a smidgeon of what I call 'aimless /mindless surfing'. 

A dose of aimless / mindless surfing  is a good idea in my opinion; especially to break the boggle-eyed concentration that can result when you're focusing extremely hard on heavy-duty internet activity. But it's the fact that we need to distract ourselves, ironically whilst using the internet, which says to me that we're losing the idea of its original remit. We're treating it as the solution to everything on every level; it's akin to it becoming the only destination for all our needs or a 'one stop shop'. Just think about that for a moment.

Distraction is all too easy nowadays. Our consumption of social media and 'net based interaction is (at a well placed 'guesstimate'), at least  30% of our waking hours. This has well documented knock-on effects to our cognitive abilities on numerous levels, including our ability to relax or de-stress after prolonged useage. I've mentioned this before in another post here, which touches on the concept of 'net based burnout and faitgue . I'm fortunate that because of the yoga first thing, I don't feel so drained or 'shredded' anymore after about  3 continuous hours of useage. But something my father recently said, made me think a little more about the implications of this.

He basically iterated that the mass consumption of all this technology and gadgetry is taking over our lives. Now whilst I rightly argued that it's useage is necessary to a degree, he replied with :- 

'what exactly is everybody doing on there all the time?'. 

Make no mistake, my father isn't a 'tech illiterate' and uses email and surfs the internet himself, albeit sparingly. I think he follows this idea of being taken over, because he's observed a lot of people just hunched down as they're walking along, constantly swiping phones and so on, looking as if they're disconnected to the world around them. 

On a personal note, I do agree with some of his sentiment. For instance, I've first hand used a plethora of online dating sites, and I've found them to be fascinating at first. But after a while on there, I felt there was a bit of 'grass is always greener elsewhere' going on. This means you're constantly searching for something better, and sometimes you don't even know what that is. Just the plethora of options alone is enough to convince you to keep going, regardless of the outcome.

In essence, because of the swathe of faces and names available to click on, you tend not to ( or at least I haven't) go for the first option or stick to it, beyond a couple of dates; or even a first date, if you're not really 'feeling the love' for want of a better phrase. That's not conducive to long term stability with regards relationships and relating to each other in general. I'm exaggerating a little here, but you can see the side effects of having too much choice in this scenario. Consequently some of my friends are militantly anti-internet with regards to their personal lives. They hence tend to stay away from the 'net based dating experience, because the results from all kinds of search options when using them, are literally too overwhelming and confusing for them to deal with.

The other issue which has been bought up countless times, is the issue of digital privacy. We're all supposedly leaving this huge digital trail here, there and everywhere, which cannot easily (if it all), be removed from the web ecosystem. So where is all this data going? There are all sorts of theories on that front too, which go from government based indexing and monitoring, all the way to using that data to manufacture a slew of false identites. This goes into the further realms of fraud and hacker gangs and terrorist based data manipulation. It's almost enough to keep you away and put you off for life, if you think about it for too long.

In effect, this line of thinking just becomes a huge maze of what-ifs, which the further into it you go, becomes ever more obtuse and far fetched. With regards to the issue of information dissemination, the positives are that this leads to far greater transparency when dealing with people at many levels. Again, with regards fake identites and so on, a little bit of dilligence in that respect is easy to follow; if you don't know the person, then use a search engine. If you're still in doubt, check up with other people that you know may have a mutual connection. After that, it's your own discernment and judgement that makes the decisions.

Overall, I tend to look at the other positive aspects of internet useage instead; as a useful barometer, connector and decision making tool. For example, we're now equipped to find the best deal on something, the best fit, best colour and get things more or less exactly as we wanted them or dreamed them up, without leaving our chairs or sofas. That was unheard of twenty years ago.

This then leads on to a saving in time, money and energy, on a personal and even industrial level. Okay, so there has been a loss of manpower in certain old work environments as a result, with the most noticeable effect on  manual labour intensive workers ( eg :- robotic automation in the car industry), but this has had already been going on for 40 years or more.  To wit, I've not seen an influx of unemployed people litter the streets in the british provinces, let alone the capital, as a result of even more automation.  If anything, that's been down to poor strategic thinking and mismanagement along the line, coupled with other related market forces. So unless an environment is completely automated, then there's always going to be a need for a human element in the workflow chain, beyond sweeping a floor. There's still some way to go from having a robotic barista making your coffee, to having an entirely android workforce in a building whirring and sliding around in a perpetual ballet of perfection.  

Everyone now has a near inexhaustable level of access to words, pictures, video, sound and graphics, so they can be their own master or hero of disciplines, which twenty years ago would have been unheard of. Going through all of this information piecemeal would be impossible, due to the size, scope and complexity of it. But you can create ( and follow) your own journey through the world wide web, depending on whichever path you choose. And even that isn't necessarily linear. All roads on there will eventually lead to everywhere and somewhere, which can ironically be the one place you wanted to get to in the first instance.  

Like the unfurling, sprawling  nature of the world wide web, using the internet is a journey without a fixed destination or ending. But you can still decide how long and for which 'checkpoint' or destination you want to surf on it, thereby giving you the option (and the ability) to hop on and off, as and when required.

Wether you're using it for research, leisure or plesure, it is a valuable toolkit with a level of interactivity that has created a huge change in society. Ultimately however, it's the user who is always in charge of the whole experience, and has been for almost twenty five years.   Let's keep it that way, as much (and for as long) as possible. 

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