Being an engineer and an entrepreneur and (almost!) a veteran when it comes to computers & Internet (had a PC when I was 7, went online when I was 14), I often felt an impulse to 'disconnect' from everything online: I switched off all IM after work, I don't check work emails on weekends. This is somewhat anathema, given my industry and what my company does! And yet, increasingly I find that I am not alone in having this sentiment.
The Internet ('Net) has seen two cycles of boom & bust, and all sorts of things have been introduced—some had failed, some had succeeded—and some of these innovative services seemed to have facilitate communication. Email, for instance, is one of those services which has helped me reach out to numerous countless relatives and new friends who are literally on the other side of the globe. The Web, had helped me start a business, found friends and formed networks (say, of bloggers reading this blog!) of individuals sharing similar interests.
But somehow, deep down, it hadn't really improved my quality of life. This response is a very rudimentary, draft-like, knee-jerk response of mine to these years of 'oppression'. Let me share a little about my life: when I get up in the morning, the first thing I do is check emails for my servers' security alerts, and then read the Daily Mass Reading, and then check more emails. And then I'm on the 'Net for the rest of my waking hours (minus the commuting duration, of course). My product is deployed on the 'Net, my development server is accessed remotely over the 'Net, marketing's done over the 'Net. Meetings & discussions are often conducted over instant messaging. I get to read news (on the 'Net!) & maybe blog a bit for about two hours before I go to bed.
All my friends are 'online': somewhere in my numerous IM clients' list. Granted that seeing them there means I can flag anyone and start communicating, but somehow that's not happening. Seeing them online all the time made me take it for granted that they'll be there ANYTIME I want them to be. Which is not the way networks or societies build.
In China, there are these facilities that claim they are curing Internet-itis, a form of addiction to the 'Net, whose 'victims' seem to be teenagers and young adults in their early '20s. Is what I'm experiencing a form of realization of the addiction? Or is it just disillusionment over what has been touted as the cure to communication barriers?
Like my company, businesses everywhere are benefiting from the Internet. This trend extends (or some say, imposes) itself to individuals. The use of Internet has helped my personal life in many ways: personal convenience in viewing/paying bills & funds transfer, ability to reach out to people nearly instantly, window to learning from the vast vault of information & instruction, and a window to a vast network of people out there. My grandma has been able to email her grandchildren from wherever she happened to be. But where it has helped, it has also undone quite a bit of discipline: it's easier to find ready-made solutions out there than learning one yourself (in particular, I refer to programming codes/algorithms to solve a problem), it's easier for your mind to wander off at one point reading Graham Greene because you know there are analyses and more background information about Greene, his life and his characters somewhere on the 'Net. Since going on the 'Net, I haven't been able to read a book without getting interrupted by doing several background searches on the 'Net. I haven't made better friends because of the 'Net (sure I've made new friends and re-acquainted with lost contacts).
The 'Net isn't to blame for all these human failings. I think I lack skills to socialize and interact, and being on the 'Net all the time certainly doesn't help. What is not good about this picture is actually the belief that everything can be done on the 'Net and can be made faster and better on the 'Net. Some things take time and discipline to develop (like social skills and systems architecture and religious discipline). I need to do all these properly.
This Lent I think I'll try putting some discipline into my own behavior: no more spending 18 hours online daily!
UPDATE: BusinessWeek article here on why you are probably not alone.