x Abu Dhabi, UAEWednesday 26 July 2017

An internet addiction? Google it - or, on second thought, don't

If you think internet access is as vital as food and water and shelter, maybe it's time for some soul-searching (and not via Google).

On a planned work trip to Al Ain, my first question was about Wi-Fi. But after thinking about it for a while, I took a step back: how bad would it really be if I had to go three days without Wi-Fi?

My first reaction was that I would survive - because I have a 3G connection. Sure, I might be less likely to stream music or videos, or to muck around online needlessly, but I could still get my essential dose of digital.

But this led to further soul searching, which by the way you cannot do on Google. What if the 3G didn't work? Then what? Did I really even need it?

I'm not dismissing the importance of the web, which would be silly. I might as well throw away my computer and find a nice slab of marble and take a chisel to it.

Undoubtedly the internet is an essential tool; as I type I have a number of tabs open enabling me to look at international news, email, Facebook, local cinema schedules, Pinterest pages, the list goes on and on. The internet's capacity to entertain and inform is unparalleled.

So what would happen if I didn't have access to it for just a few days?

Of course, on holidays I have visited destinations where there was hardly any access. On one trip to another Arab country, I even lectured hotel staff about how internet access had become practically a basic human right - they were charging exorbitantly high connection fees.

In another country, I was staying with a family that didn't have access in the home, but the pleasure of the company kept me from really noticing the lack of connectivity.

But how would I feel being cut off in my own country? The thought almost made me panicky and fidgety. It's almost as if my attention span here at home is so short that I need to have access to the internet just to keep me entertained. Perhaps while I'm travelling and seeing new things, I am interested and engaged enough to keep my mind occupied, but while I'm here I need something more.

That kind of thinking worries me. I don't want to feel like I need to be connected to the internet by some sort of IV drip. It makes me feel a bit helpless, like this is a sort of addiction that I need to kick.

So then, I started thinking that the cycle needed to be broken.

Moderation is an important virtue that can be incredibly difficult to manage. In an age when the limits of sensory overload are constantly being pushed, the act of looking away takes more and more will power.

As an example, walk into a cafe and look at how many people are playing with or staring at their phones. Even worse, how many people are doing so while seated with other people?

We have all experienced this, sitting at a table talking with someone who picks up his or her phone to see if someone has left a call, an sms, a bbm or an email - or any other tag or digital trace that someone has had a fleeting thought.

If this doesn't ring a bell, then you are probably the one who is doing it. I understand checking to make sure your children are OK, but ducking out of a conversation to see if someone has changed a profile picture is just sad, and insulting to the person who is stupid enough to be talking to you in the first place.

So for my next trip, I'm toying with the idea of not taking a laptop or an iPad along. I need my phone to stay in touch with family, and my BlackBerry to check work email, but otherwise I can handle being disconnected for a few days.

At first, sure, I will be like the addict needing a fix, staring over other people's shoulders as they check their email or go on Facebook, but I imagine that the feeling will die down, eventually at least. Instead, I'm going to bring a really good book.

I think I can do this. I want to do this. I believe I can do this. Of course, if it all gets to be too much, I do have some games on my mobile to keep me company. Really, I think I can do this. Wish me luck.

 

Su'ad Yousif is a civil servant based in Abu Dhabi