Sometimes, I really can’t stand the internet. Don’t get me wrong, I use it often, and I don’t plan to change that much anytime soon. I think there are great tools out there and it helps facilitate and create great things that wouldn’t exist otherwise. It helps me stay in contact with people I wouldn’t be able to otherwise. I’m not saying the internet is bad by any means. Yes, there are bad things about it, but there are bad things about everything. Overall, I think the internet is great. I just have a few issues with it. This post is not about net neutrality or intellectual property or click morality or Poe’s law or content creation or restriction or what constitutes a view, though those are important conversations that need to be had…but not with me. Save those for someone who has the knowledge to do them justice. I’m going to talk about my personal shortcomings with the internet.
I don’t really hate the internet itself. I’m thankful for the NYTimes and for Wikipedia, EasyBib and BuzzFeed. YouTube is cool sometimes. I use social media: Facebook, Instagram, Snapchat. The former two more than the latter. I download my music off iTunes, I order things from Amazon, I write a blog. I’m fascinated by the way things are stored and data travels. I love watching people come together to make things happen. I like watching opinions form and fall and be torn apart. I watch hashtags and trends go in and out of vogue. I’m like any other teenager out there: I live my life virtually online.
So why do I hate the Internet?
I hate what the Internet does to me. I hate that I am developing a problem. A dependency, even. Addiction is a strong word that I’m not quite ready to use, but it’s not really that far off. I can hardly do anything without out constantly refreshing the page or checking my phone or wanting to. I can be away from Internet for a while, but as soon as I’m able, it’s the first thing I’ll do. Checking all my accounts is the first thing I do when I get up in the morning, and more often than not the last thing I do before I go to bed. I surf and chat and text to kill time or when I’m bored. I’ll procrastinate doing something I need to do and end up an hour later taking a test to see which 90’s sitcom I am. I impulsively glance at my phone for notifications all the time.
And the worst part is, it’s a cultural institution–wait, no, expectation. If I have my phone with me, I’m basically committed to be available to all my contacts, friends and followers. I’m expected to respond to your text promptly and like your photo. It says something about our relationship if I don’t. Our closeness is defined by whether or not you follow me back on Instagram. If you text me, and I’m with someone else, I’m supposed to text back. That’s the way it works. There are phones out at restaurants and in theaters. It doesn’t matter where you are or whom you’re with. I’ve come to expect that from people too–that they get back to me promptly, or I’m hurt when people don’t like a certain post or photo or follow me. And the convention on every single site and app is different–and every time I use one, I’m expected to know the tacit protocol of how to behave. There’s an art to the perfect Facebook post, but Facebook isn’t cool anymore so who even cares. There’s a preciseness to the artsy-but-not-obviously-so Instagram photo, with a cute and witty caption with minimal punctuation and capitalization, an emoji or two. Oh, and you must always look blemish-free in your selfies lest you get fewer likes.
I’m an ISFJ. I like being alone and I prefer deep and meaningful relationships over a huge friend group. The internet has ruined that for me. I talk to people all the time, but if I’m honest, more because it feels like a chore or out of boredom than actual connection to the person. If I somehow happen to find myself in a conversation, I need an excuse “dinner! gtg” or “I should go do my homework now” to leave. I can’t just go. I’m friends with people I’d never be in real life. My personality shifts ever so slightly depending on who you are. It does in person too, but it feels weightier online. I’m filtered. I say and do things–both good and bad–I would never if I were talking to your face.
I recently read this New York Times article that talks about how teenagers (like me) are actually having healthy social growth and engagement online, contrary to our parents’ belief that it’s just us wasting ourselves away. Here’s the thing: I am a teenager. And I almost disagree with this study. It’s counterproductive to the millennial agenda, but there are two sides to every story. If you don’t already know, I’m a TCK. At this writing, I’ve lived in five countries and am in the process of moving to my sixth. I go to camp every summer. I have friends all over the place, because as I’ve met them, they’ve moved. I am so grateful that the internet has allowed me to keep in touch with some of my best and closest friends, even though they live on different continents and in other timezones. That part’s great. The not-great part is that I feel beholden to a certain standard, a self-brand if you will. My friends become virtual celebrities, because their Snapchat stories and Instagram posts show them beautiful and smiling with friends way prettier and happier than mine. These are my friends, mind you. With a handful of exceptions, I have at least eaten a meal with these people. I’ve gone to school or camp or church with them. And now look at them: they’re getting jobs and driver’s licenses and boyfriends and going to the beach and doing their devotions all the time. They post selfies, they post Bible verses. They–or at least their online presence, is perfect. And I’m just here, with that one zit I can’t quite cover with concealer, stuck somewhere that’s not all that photogenic. I curate my image too. I don’t post pictures on a bad day. I’m not as open as I could be, for fear of being not enough for you to like me–both emotionally and by double tapping my photo or hitting that thumbs-up. We’re all playing characters online–why would I break mine?
Maybe I’m not the only one who feels this way. Maybe everyone’s a victim of the friend complex, of the character-playing, of the connected distance. It really does become a business, almost: having certain target audiences, trying to get that one person to like that one post, calculating what needs to be in this to get that result. But really, would we tell anyone? We are who we are online. That image of myself at some point or another becomes me, doesn’t it?
I don’t mean to sound like I’m anti-internet. I made that clear in the beginning, I hope. This is a huge part of my life, and it’s fun, actually. I love Instagram. I just feel like sometimes we get so wrapped up in the insecurities that turn into a craving for fame and likes that we don’t even realize the danger in the culture that we create. If a post of mine does well, I feel loved and successful. If it doesn’t, then I’m tempted to wonder what’s wrong with it, why is it not good enough. That’s so wrong. I should not be thinking that. At all. Do you see how damaging that is? I’m not logging off for good or anything. I’m just taking a moment to recognize that sometimes it gets the better of me and it shouldn’t.
So today, see a friend in person if you can. Write them some snail mail. Realize those perfect selfies are filtered, and that they’re still your kindergarten bestie. They have acne too, don’t worry. And if all else fails, there’s always email, which is outdated enough it counts, and it’s basically snail mail but it gets there faster.
PS. pls follow me on instagram. also share this so I get more likes. And talk to me about this (not being facetious about that one–I’d love to hear from you). And like it. And pin it. Add me on snapchat