Last week, a co-worker read this quote aloud to me from the screen of his smartphone.
“Twenty years ago, the Internet was an escape from the real world. Today, the real world is an escape from the Internet.”
I am not sure, but I might have nodded in agreement.
In 1999, the Internet was akin to a frontier. A check of headlines from that year reveals a news article titled “AOL plans high-speed access.”
Written by reporter Tom Spring, the story goes on to announce that for about $20 extra a month, “AOL users will be able to surf the Web nearly 20 times faster than with a dial-up connection.”
AOL? Dial-up? Good grief.
YouTube would not arrive for another six years or so. Facebook would be founded in 2004. And Instagram and Pinterest would not materialize for the general population until the first decade of the 21st century.
A classmate of mine in the early 2000s remarked how she really wanted a new computer to boost her Internet access because, with the then-growing number of dot-coms included in advertisements, she felt she was missing out on something.
Now, an overabundance of screen time is often cause for concern by health experts, a topic of study for academic scholars and an anxiety catalyst upon which cosmetic companies can capitalize as the Internet, enabled by our devices, seeps into every aspect of our lives.
For example, syndicated television talk shows “The Doctors” and “Dr. Oz” have devoted episodes to the impact of the Internet on the brains of adults and children.
As early as 2009, the academic journal The American Journal of Geriatric Psychiatry published the paper “Your Brain on Google: Patterns of Cerebral Activation During Internet Searching.”
Anti-aging specialty beauty company StriVectin offers users a cream to combat “tech neck,” a condition allegedly caused by looking down at a smartphone, tablet or other device too often, while fans of the bareMinerals cosmetic line can purchase a product designed to protect skin from the blue light emitted by devices.
I would be remiss not to mention the potential impact on the collective psyche of perfectly curated lives presented on social media where every pet is adorable, every child a genius, every home a masterpiece of design and organization and every day an epic adventure presented in scrolling feeds without apparent definitive ends.
In response, although some might prefer the term backlash, real-world experiences are being prescribed by experts as gifts to be given for occasions from anniversaries to special holidays. Smithsonian Journeys, a travel arm of the Smithsonian Institution, describes its trips, many of which will set one back several thousand dollars, as “providing a deep, authentic and unique perspective” as one jets, sails, bikes, hikes and otherwise travels the world.
Digital fasts, screen diets and device curfews are heralded in newspaper articles and magazine special reports as antidotes, good practices and weapons to challenge the information superhighway scourge. Interviewed for the February 2018 edition of Prevention magazine, Janet K. Kennedy, clinical psychologist, recommends stowing cellphones, laptops and tablets at least an hour before bedtime as well as developing a bedtime routine or ritual to signal the brain to also power down and prepare for sleep mode.
Twenty years ago, the Internet was a sleeping giant in training to place the world at our fingertips. Perhaps Internet users, myself included, would be well served by carving out time to enter the world firsthand.
East Penn Press