The Internet is a Tool

When I wrote a post on how I hate the Internet, it generated a lot of buzz off-site. Friends I linked it to, friends who check to see if I’ve posted anything recently (the answer was usually no), and people in forums where I may have shared the post wanted to talk about it.

All of these people acknowledged that the problems I highlighted were real. People younger than me saw the issues as well, even if they didn’t have a vivid firsthand memory of dialup Internet. One person really enjoyed the quote from my dad.

But the title of that post is a bit misleading and maybe a bit unfair. I don’t hate the Internet. As I mentioned in the post, I hate what it’s done to me. My productivity, my focus, my stress levels.

This led to an awesome conversation with someone I’d never met before on a forum. He said he had been working on a series all about how the advent of the screen has changed how we associate with the rest of humanity. How the Internet plays middleman to so many of our social interactions.

In that post I mentioned that I used to go online when I wanted to know something, and now I don’t know why I go online. This person had a really cool analogy, which I’ll paraphrase here.

The Internet is like a crutch. If you break your leg, you need crutches while your leg heals. If you keep using the crutches after your leg has healed, however, your leg will atrophy from lack of use.

So, if we use the Internet when we don’t need it, we’re essentially just using it as another means of turning our brains off. This is especially true if we aren’t constant pursuers of knowledge and only spend our time scrolling.

I bring this up as a new way to reconcile Internet overuse—maybe even addiction, but let’s give that word a rest for a little bit. If you think you spend too much time on the Internet, then consider what you’re doing whenever you use it. Are you doing research? Networking? Doing literally anything productive? If yes, then good.

If not, consider other things you could be doing.

This is one of those moments where we can steal back time. Have you ever browsed the Internet for a half-hour or more straight and looked back on all that time and realized that you accomplished not one productive thing in that time, then thought about all the things you could have been doing? Reading a chapter in a book. Writing a thousand words. Filling out the FAFSA for next semester (which reminds me…)

The key here is not to mourn lost time. Every error is a lesson. It’s better to learn by experience than to be told how to live. Each of these experiences gives us evidence for why we want to behave differently in the future, and gives us an idea for how to correct our actions.

Trying to live intentionally—by making sure each of our decisions counts—can make it easier to see how to add value to our lives. If the Internet adds value to your day—either for productive reasons or just for cheering you up and making you laugh—then go for it. But make the decision consciously, and don’t just use it as a crutch to avoid walking on your perfectly fine leg.

Okay, that last line could be massively misconstrued. Please don’t read into it.

The point is, the Internet, like a hammer, can be a useful tool. Just make sure you’re aiming at a nail and not your thumb when you use it.

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