Rory Cellan Jones, BBC Technology Correspondent, went 24 hours without the internet, concluding he was unable to function without being hooked up to the online world. Most of those he spoke to during this time agreed with him. Later, on reflection, Cellan Jones concluded disconnection might not be a bad thing after all. I have sympathy for this view. At Brayford this morning the internet was dodgy for about an hour and then disconnected for ten minutes to be fixed. That was bad enough. At the time. But what disconnection highlights is our addiction to being online in general and to social media in particular. We have become dependent and it has happened in a very short time. In less than a decade the internet machine has taken over.
What would Christopher Lasch have to say? In his book The Culture of Narcissism he claimed American society was out of touch with past and future and overly absorbed in the present. People were afraid of nothingness and, in order to fill the void of themselves, had become totally focused on the moment seeking immediate self-gratification through consumerism or entertainment. In an echo of Neil Postman’s critique of mainstream US television, everyone was in danger of amusing themselves to death.
Both Lasch and Postman were wOiting before the internet revolution of the late 20th and early 21st century. The internet is probably the biggest void filler of all. It enhances opportunities to block out reality and encourages retreat to a parallel digital universe, one which responds to the screen swipe or a key click. The more we become dependent on accessing information online, and living out our lives via digital versions of social forums and media, the greater the risk of being unable to function in a disconnected world. Adopting an hour a day or a day a week when the internet is turned off might not be such a bad thing after all.