Help, I’m an Internet Fiend!

I spend more browsing the Internet than I ought to. Finding content on the Internet is quick and easy, and its variety is almost limitless. Do you know how long it would take to read every single Buzzfeed “listicle?” Definitely more time than I’m willing to commit. Look at this Buzzfeed article and then consider that Buzzfeed is one of dozens of sites that produces silly content like this and this, and then remember that there are millions of websites all competing for your attention. Granted, some sites have different target audiences than others, but the sheer quantity of ways to waste your time on the Internet makes me shudder.

For this lab, I examined the relationship between age and pleasure internet versus work and also age and work internet use. Then, I ran a cross-tab of these two data sets to see if there were any trends worth writing about. I wish I could have had a larger pool of responses for this report because I’m fairly certain most of the people surveyed were Skidmore students or in some way related to Skidmore. That’s great for making generalizations about this college community, but what about the world at large? I wish I had taken more initiative in disseminating this survey to non-Skidmore friends their social groups so I could make lofty claims like “THE WHOLE WORLD HAS TURNED TO INTERNET ZOMBIES!” Still, I think this data set illuminates the trend I’ve feared for so long. First, let’s take a look at the relationship between age and work internet use.

A graph showing the relationship between age and weekly work internet use.

As you can see, people under the age of 40 are much more likely to use the Internet at work than people over the age of 40. This is most likely because of the increased digitization of the workplace that has accompanied the rise of companies like Microsoft and Apple, whose products are found in offices worldwide. You can do a whole lot with a computer, but you can do exponentially more with a computer with an Internet connection.

Now, what about the relationship between age and pleasure Internet use?

A graph showing the relationship between age and weekly pleasure Internet use.

As you can see, more people above the age of 40 are using the Internet for pleasure than they are for work. More alarmingly, look at how many people use the Internet for pleasure for five hours or more each week. Five hours of Buzzfeed, Youtube, or CNN, time spent illuminating our faces with our screens instead of experiencing the real world.

Is there a relationship between work Internet use and pleasure Internet use? Do people who spend all day at work online have a tendency to avoid the Internet when they go home? I ran a cross-tabulation to find out.

As you can see, people who use the Internet at work for more than 15 hours a week (coming out to 3 hours per work day) tend to spend just as much time on the Internet for pleasure. People who spend less than 5 hours of their Internet use for work are more likely to spend more than 5 hours per week browsing the Internet for pleasure. On the whole, people seem to need to get their pleasure Internet fix regardless of how long they might have spent working on the Internet.

I’ve come to learn that in our technological age computer literacy is more and more prevalent and it’s safe to assume that more jobs require daily Internet use than ever before. What perturbs me is that the same crowds who use the Internet throughout their work day might very well transition straight into recreational Internet use without even taking a break from their phones, tablets, or computers. This is how connected we are. Perhaps this guy really was texting on his phone and not doing something that requires the Internet (like checking email or Instagram) but the takeaway here should be how narrowly he avoided a confrontation with a bear because he was so absorbed by his phone. Imagine what our ancestors would think!

I understand the appeal of switching from one realm of internet to the other without pause because this summer I worked a desk job at Skidmore College answering emails and googling sleeping bag prices for incoming First-Years. I loved every minute of it, but after a long day I was usually so fried that all I could think to do when I arrive home was cue up Netflix, make pasta, and zone out to Family Guy or some other vapid show’s shenanigans. This ritual never directed me towards anything particularly engrossing, but I looked forward to it every day because I was the master of my internet destiny, and I chose to spend my time that way. I know this doesn't sound very revolutionary, but it helped me come to grips with the same daily routine I’d been following for weeks and preserve my enthusiasm for work.

I try to read every night because I think staying away from my computer keeps me interested in the real world. I read paper books and I deliberately don’t count the Kindle, Nook, or any other reading device as “books.” I’m talking about the joy of glue and paper and that strange vanilla-y smell that greets your nose and not freaking out if you spill a cup of coffee on it. Sure, watching your coffee seep into an engrossing book and blur the ink still ruins your day, but you’re not out a hundred bucks. Perhaps you only read original Victorian classics and the financial ramifications of a spilled cup of coffee would be ruinous, but if you’re that type of reader I highly doubt you’re reading this article. I've been a proud analog reader my entire life and I have no intention of switching over to the dark side of e-books because I already feel like technology and the Internet in particular hold too much influence over how I choose my activities.

Now, more than halfway through my semester, I’m vexed by the Internet. Why do I dive into an episode of Planet Earth about seasonal forests when there’s fall foliage right outside my window? Why do I play pool online instead of going downtown and playing there? The answer is a mixture of expedience and laziness. We are a population that idolizes the ever-rising speed of information transfer and the great diversity of content that makes up the Internet. I love the Internet too, but I don’t think my daily use is healthy. There are so many real-world activities that I’m missing out on every time I play a computer game or watch Netflix, and technology is only getting more enticing and difficult to put down. I’m not the first person to preach this message and I certainly won’t be the last, but I’m the kind of person who values peer-to-peer interaction over social media use and a physical newspaper over e-news. I hope more people start picking up books and going for walks instead of logging onto the Internet after work, but I’m also a realist. The Almighty Internet has us in its grasp and its grip only strengthens as each new video, story, or game gets beamed to us at unimaginable speeds across huge distances. We as a society are turning into Internet zombies, but I suppose I’m going to have to learn to live with that and continue to reestablish my real-world/Internet balance. It’s getting easier and easier to log in to the Internet and tune out from the real world, and that stresses me out. It’s time for me to go for a walk.

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