Anxiety and the Internet

There are countless studies on how the Internet and social media provoke undue anxiety. Yes, the Internet can be used as a marvelous force for good in the world, but in my mind, the disadvantages outweigh the advantages. Because I’m a “Millennial,” it is hard for me to remember a time when the Internet was not a prevailing force in my life. I started to go online more often when I was about 16 or 17, back when Xanga was all the rage. Reading my peers’ rants and raves caused me to feel as though I had more of a connection with them, and I could more easily convey my thoughts in writing than in speech, so the Internet seemed like it would be a useful tool.

Sometimes I wish the Internet hadn’t made things so “easy,” but at the same time, if it wasn’t for the Internet, I often wonder if things would have been harder for me. This kind of speculation is a waste of time and can also lead to anxiety, so I tend not to think about it too often. I do find that it helps when I see articles such as this one, that acknowledge the need to unplug and regain contact with the outside world.

What can be done to get out of the anxiety-inducing online world?

  • Post less often. Figure out how often you post blogs or comments or podcasts and limit it.
  • Check email less often. It’s OK to let your inbox pile up occasionally. Most of it usually gets deleted unread anyway.
  • An addendum to the previous bullet: go through your emails and see which ones you can unsubscribe to. Trust me; there will be a lot.
  • Don’t turn on your computer (or don’t launch your Internet browser). Once you get it started, it’s harder to turn it off because of the next shiny thing that grabs your attention. So don’t even get that ball rolling.
  • Avoid reading news articles or looking at the news. It’s hard when it seems like every place you enter has ten TVs all blasting CNN. Bring a book or look out a window.
  • Put your phone on silent and put it in a drawer. If you don’t see it or hear it making noise, you might forget that it exists.
  • Talk to real-life people. This is the single most effective way to get out of the online world and out of your own head.

Honestly, the most important thing would probably be to remember that not everything you read or see online is true. Sometimes just knowing is enough to take the edge off anxiety.

Too Much Entertainment

Once upon a time, I was in ninth grade and there were two things I liked more than almost anything (besides reading): music and video games (namely Pokémon and Unreal Tournament). So when I came home from a rough day of being a freshman in high school, I would blow off steam by sitting in front of the family computer (that is, if the seat wasn’t already occupied by my brother) and destroying pixelated soldiers in Unreal Tournament.

One day I had the brilliant idea to enhance my killing sprees by listening to music while playing the game. So I was merrily running along in a fictional militaristic world, flak cannon in virtual hand, blasting enemies into freshets of imaginary blood while listening to Bon Jovi. Pure nerdy bliss. My blood pressure was low, my ears were filled with the sounds of the game and the music, and then my mom looked over at me and said, “Maggie, that’s too much.” (Or something like that. At the time, I was angry at having my joy interrupted and didn’t bother to remember her exact words.)

That was back in 2002, before everyone on God’s green earth had a cell phone, before social media really took off, before mp3 players and iPads and Kindles, and before video games looked so realistic that you couldn’t tell the difference between animation and a live-action movie. I feel sorry for teenagers today, who have three or four times as many modes of entertainment and thus three or four times as many distractions. It’s not just too much. It’s way too much.

I help with my church’s youth group, and this past Sunday’s session was about how we are consumed by technology, social media, materialism, and other modern-day distractions. The teenagers were given a slip of paper on which they were asked to estimate the number of hours per day they spent on social media, browsing the Internet, texting, and so forth. The findings weren’t shocking to me or any of the adults present, especially because a few of the teenagers were tied to their phones during the night. Even so, we hoped the exercise made them realize that there was a lot of unnecessary “noise” in their lives and that the noise can prevent them from being able to sit in silence, to meditate, and to pray.

We taught the teenagers that there is a simple solution to escaping from all the “noise,” and that is spending time before Jesus in the Blessed Sacrament, AKA Eucharistic Adoration. Just a few minutes of silence and/or prayer per day can put things back in perspective and stop the noise long enough to help one remember that the world and all its distractions will pass away, and all the “entertainment” we have can never fill the gap in our souls that yearns for God.

Vine’s Been Cut Down

If you follow this blog, you probably know I’m not a fan of social media (ironic, considering blogging is a form of social media, but anyway…). So I was happy to hear about the demise of Vine,* which is basically YouTube with a much shorter attention span, where users post 6-second videos. Yes, you read that right. Six seconds of video, played on a loop until the viewer gets sick of it and it’s no longer amusing or funny or whatever it was supposed to be.

Apparently, Vine is being shut down (although the existing videos will remain in an archive) because it did not keep up with the innovative pace of Twitter, Snapchat, and other popular social media sites. Why did Vine not last? Perhaps because users wanted something with a little more substance, so they turned to YouTube. Maybe they wanted to upload pictures instead of videos, so they went on Instagram.

Oddly enough, I’ve also been hearing things about Twitter (the parent company of Vine) and Tumblr (owned by Yahoo!, which was recently bought by Verizon) also having problems. So maybe Vine represents the beginning of the end for social media in general, and we can all return to having face-to-face conversations instead of burying our heads in our phones all the time. I do recognize that this is an unlikely outcome because social media sites come and go all the time, but I can dream, right?

*But I was not happy upon realizing that Vine’s shutdown means that people will be out of jobs.