Every day, millions and millions of people around the world are continuously connected to their smartphones. It’s a world we wouldn’t have dreamed of 20-30 years ago.
They “Text”, “Twitter”, “Instagram”, “Face-time”, “Tik-Tok”. It’s not easy to keep up with the language, let alone the various social media platforms and all their rules of engagement. Lol!
It’s a new world, all right—one in which we are confronted daily with new emotional issues, or new twists on age-old issues.
Using a few examples, here are two vignettes to illustrate some of the waters we are wading in today.
Real Life vs. Net Life
George spends five to eight hours a day on his smartphone chatting with a vast assortment of friends in chat groups as well as on various social media platforms, sometimes with people he hasn’t ever met in person. He presents himself as an assertive, confident, and opinionated scholar or a focused, take-charge businessman.
In “real life,” George is none of these. Painfully shy and extremely self-critical, George keeps to himself.
“I feel more like myself when I’m online,” he says. But what he really means is, “I feel more like who I wish I was.”
In “online” culture, people often use the anonymity to put forth an alternate “self.” “Online” interactions don’t carry the same risks as face-to-face conversations. And that can free people to explore previously underdeveloped parts of themselves.
But without integrating those new parts into real life, identities remain dependent on virtual platforms. The internet becomes simply a safe haven in which to hide. And boundaries between the imagined world and real-world become further blurred.
Four-year-old Eddie spends hours behind a computer screen studying whales and porpoises; he can identify almost anything that swims. But Eddie has never seen real fish, though he lives near the ocean and a world-class aquarium.
Like a pint-sized hermit peering out of his window, Eddie, like huge numbers of children today, is learning about nature on a computer screen, not from direct contact with the natural world. His experience is only a simulated experience, which increasing numbers of people are willing to accept as sufficient.
And yet, watching elms shimmer in the bright fall sunshine on a flashy website is not the same as actually strolling through a wood of shimmering elms.
Simulation is seductive; it avoids imperfections, cracks, rough edges. Fake things can seem more compelling than the real.
Handling email, texts, and “surfing the Web” can eat hours from each day. Bit by bit, our days dribble away. Every hour on our smartphone is 60 minutes not spent doing something else. During the hours you spend online, you could instead plant a garden, volunteer at a senior citizen’s home, teach your child (or a neighborhood kid) to catch a pop fly, or walk/run on a treadmill. It’s all about balance. Isn’t there something you’d feel better about doing with your time?
When “Being Too Connected” Becomes a Problem
People get addicted to all sorts of things: drugs, eating, gambling, exercising, spending, sex, etc. Problematic addiction can be defined as anything that never really satisfies needs, that ultimately causes unhappiness and disrupts lives. Here are some questions that psychologists offer to people who are trying to determine if they are indeed addicted:
- Are you neglecting important things in your life because of this behavior?
- Is this behavior disrupting your relationships with important people in your life?
- Do important people in your life get annoyed or disappointed with you about this behavior
- Do you get defensive or irritable when people criticize this behavior?
- Do you ever feel guilty or anxious about what you are doing?
- Have you ever found yourself being secretive about or trying to “cover up” this behavior?
- Have you ever tried to cut down, but were unable to?
- If you were honest with yourself, would you feel there is another hidden need that drives this behavior?
An affirmative reply to one or two of these responses may not mean anything. An affirmative reply to three or more of them could mean trouble.
Ultimately, it’s a matter of balance and awareness. There is no question that smartphones, computers and the Internet are here to stay. The most important question is: How can we get the best of both?
Interested in making changes in your life through coaching? Call Linda at 416-617-0734 or email firstname.lastname@example.org.
Want to read more? Get a new article directly into your inbox every month: https://lindacattelan.com/newsletter/