Not a moment flies by, anymore, without some youngster tweeting, facebooking, instagramming, blogging and otherwise making a nuisance of himself in the permanently switched-on digital world to grumpy, old gramps.
As a member of grey-haired contingent, I have a word for this peculiarly annoying and highly contagious condition of cyber-connectivity: “Internetitis”. The the symptoms are as recognizable as the latest app.
Do you begin to sweat profusely if you go without checking your social-media feeds for longer than 30 minutes? Do you become anxious and fidgety when your inbox fails to notify you of unread mail? Does the thought of actually having to wait to check your voice messages make you physically ill?
If you answered “yes” to any of the aforementioned, chances are you suffer from acute “Internetitis”, the cure for which scientists are assiduously working to discover.
In the meantime, abstinence appears to be the only reliable treatment. In fact, going cold-turkey is becoming a verifiable thing these days. And it ain’t easy. Just ask Flora Carr who wrote a piece about her week without the slipstream of silliness for the Guardian last fall.
“I decided to . . see how I’d cope. Would my social life suffer? How would I keep up-to-date with news and trends? And did this mean I’d have to find my real-life calculator?”
Indeed, she noted, “I began to think of my week ‘unplugged’ as a kind of retreat. In a world saturated with images, we feel a need to document our every action; just recently I caught myself Instagramming my bowl of morning porridge.
“As the week progressed I found myself sleeping far better – simply because I wasn’t lying in bed for hours double-checking my newsfeed. . . And while the week may have provided me an escape from both hypothermia and Kim Kardashian taking 1,200 selfies on holiday, it also proved to be a period of self-imposed social exile.”
That is, of course, the point.
I grew up at a time when rotary dial telephones were actually considered intrusive by many of my parents’ generation. The thought of any single household owning more than one of these contraptions was patently absurd. When you rang someone up, there was an even chance your call would go unanswered. You’d just have to try later or even (gasp!) the following day.
Somehow, though, we managed to muddle through without compromising the integrity of our circles of friends and associates. We actually looked forward to receiving a bone fide letter in the mail.
Then again, if you’ve never lived this way, the sudden withdrawal from the plugged in world can be jarring. That’s what American technology writer Paul Miller discovered a couple of years ago when he decided tune out for an entire year. In an interview with CNN, upon his return to the online universe, he described his experience as,“Existential and introspective. I really learned a lot about myself. I did have a lot of free time, but a lot of it was loneliness and boredom in ways that I hadn’t really experienced before.”
On the other hand, he said, “There were times I would realize my mind was in really cool places, having thought processes that are hard to have when you’re on the Internet.”
Would he do it again?
Something tells me the 20-something would rather be caught naked on a busy overpass than to be one more minute without his smartphone.
After all, Luddite Town is a nice place to visit, but, really gramps, who would want to live there?