Do you ever catch a break from internet?


How often each day you are entirely disconnected from the internet? If you have a smartphone then it’s probably not very often at all.

If you take a flight then it’s in the cards you might have to withstand some hours without social network updates – though most of airlines are now offering wifi access on board leading to many frivolous Facebook updates saying little more than “I’m on the plane…”

London commuters know that the Tube is a bolt hole from phone calls and Internet access, but the recent addition of wifi at station platforms means that it is possible to quickly punch out 140 characters to 200 million people and grab a few chuckles from Facebook updates each time the train stops.

Last night, I was to enjoy a calm meal with my precious husband (I adoringly address him as ‘Sunshine’ in my Tweets/Facebook updates). Was this too much of information, social networking taking a toll over me guess.

My husband addressed me as ‘wasted’ as I was uploading a photo of the place to Facebook. He was checking the menu and I was uploading a photo of him with the menu. He requested to keep my phone aside for the rest of the meal. Please note he himself keeps flipping Flipcard or news channels on his smartphone (I am sorry for dragging the spouse rivalry here too but it is true, he is no sane either)

I was thinking while I was in the gym this morning that my time drubbing the treadmill is probably the only time I never carry my phone. But then I am sure many of you tried running with a music outlet in your pocket.

I use most of the key social networks and I update them regularly, but I can switch off effortlessly (I would like to believe so) – I still read “real” books rather than just Twitter updates. I use them once a day or at regular intervals on any given day. I have a good reason to share what I’m up to because I live a long way from my family – it’s great being able to share with them what I am up to and what London looks like from my perspective.

But I’ve seen what limits on addiction in some friends. Addiction to the point that they can’t stop sharing all those ‘amusing’ images on Facebook and endlessly checking to see if anyone has commented or responded – even just with a ‘like’. And addiction to the point that they are endlessly appealing for interaction – leaving angst-filled notes online about their lack of purpose or disappointment with life in general.

What addiction has this displaced? Perhaps it was the endless consumption of daytime TV / Newspaper / Writing / Reading a book? Why would anyone sit passively all day consuming trash TV or browse news pages when they can do the same online and be rewarded by people giving them thumbs up?

Technology is converging and creating a perfect storm that will stunt attention extents and mug us of lazy free time to contemplate. When was the last time you actually did nothing at all and just sat thinking about a place you want to visit, a narration you could do better than many, or a story you could write that would sell more than the Almost Single stint?

With every free moment now spread evenly between Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram, how will creativity work in future? I recently heard a Stanford professor on the BBC talking about pedagogical changes in university education – how lectures are no longer seen as important when they can all be grabbed from the website as a video or podcast. And even those students attending lectures do so with an iPad constantly connected to Facebook.

The use of location-aware smartphones combined with venue services such as Facebook Places or Foursquare creates new possibilities for advertising that make recent science fiction movies look archaic. Right now a brand, such as Marks & Spencer, knows if I like their brand or not, and they know if I’m inside or near to a store. The only reason our phones are not being bombarded with location-aware advertising is because the social networks know how questions over privacy are the one thing that could derail their endless dominance over our spare time.

But I love social networks. I couldn’t stay in touch with my friends and family all over the world as easily as I do without them – my dad is always on Facebook these days and I could never have imagined that a few years ago. I think this ability for every person to shape their Internet use is about to blossom into a new type of experience, making our present use of social networks soon look as primitive as a 1994 web browser.

But when I go out running or even to the gym, I run without my phone and I think about the experiences I want to write, the 5 years down the line plans of my life, and how I can make things better for me, my family, society and of course, what I need to cook for the dinner.

If all we ever did were update Facebook with motivational quotes, none of this wonderful creativity would ever have a life. Hopefully the teens now getting addicted to a life lived online figure out a way through the temptation. When I was a kid, the perceived danger was that we would fritter our lives away playing video games, yet that turned into an entertainment industry bigger than cinema – the kids addicted to games as teens back then are now running giant entertainment corporations.

I’m hoping the same happens again and you thought I would never say something like this.