Hopelessly Hooked

Here’s a great article documenting many of the probably thousands of reasons that the internet is bad for us: We Are Hopelessly Hooked

It reads like something that could’ve been written by Jerry Mander or Ivan Illich. Constant use of—and need for—digital technology, i.e. “devices,” has broken down social units, has hobbled solidarity, and has completely destroyed connections with ecosystems. That last one is not just bad for humans but for all life, since the one thing one should know about ecosystems, if nothing else, is that they are interconnected.

Devices have also made people kind of boring, while simultaneously creating the illusion that everyone is suddenly living fascinating lives. Yes I realize I just wrote that sentence on a blog.

Of course one always has to end a critique of technology on a positive note, because what a bummer, to realize that it’s already too late, and that undemocratic “advances” cannot be ameliorated—let alone dismantled—with “democratic” means. And yet:

Despite the picture she paints of digital damage to nearly every kind of human relationship, Turkle remains optimistic that we can gain control of technology or, as her book’s title has it, reclaim conversation. Even teenagers who don’t remember a time before social media express nostalgia for life without it. One place they still experience friendship without divided attention is at device-free summer camps, where they return after six weeks more thoughtful and empathetic—only to plunge back into the “machine zone.”

How can we enjoy the pleasures and benefits of mobile and social media while countering its self-depleting and antisocial aspects? Turkle keeps her discussion of remedy general, perhaps because there aren’t many good solutions at the moment.

Harris wants engineers to consider human values like the notion of “time well spent” in the design of consumer technology. Most of his proposals are “nudge”-style tweaks and signals to encourage more conscious choices. For example, Gmail or Facebook might begin a session by asking you how much time you want to spend with it that day, and reminding you when you’re nearing the limit. Messaging apps might be reengineered to privilege attention over interruption. iTunes could downgrade games that are frequently deleted because users find them too addictive.

These are helpful suggestions—more thoughtful apps, and apps to control our apps.

Yes, let’s fight the problem with the problem, again.


10 thoughts on “Hopelessly Hooked

  1. That there are people “hopelessly hooked” to the internet is hardly surprising. After all weak people have always existed: alcoholics and all drug-addicts ever say hi (to give an illustrative example).

    But besides functioning as a sort of “drug” the internet is also a powerful tool. And that there are people harming themselves with it is also hardly surprising. After all stupid people have always existed: the idiot who cut his finger off with his knife also harmed himself with a useful tool says hi too (and serves as our new example).

    So the point I’m trying to make is that our job here is not confuse ourselves with the weak and the stupid, and that our reasons, our arguments and our “proofs” exist solely for our benefit — who are we to tell alcoholics to stop drinking, anyway? They themselves are having the time of their lives passing out in their sofas! If they weren’t enjoying themselves they’d be the ones writing these blog posts, is what I’m saying!

    And I mean lol:

    “Turkle keeps her discussion of remedy general, perhaps because there aren’t many good solutions at the moment”

    how about this for a solution: turn your cellphone off, you dumb bitch.

    • Indeed it could! And in that case the non-idiot will immediately recognize the harmful consequence of cutting his finger off and will rush out to the nearest hospital with his dismembered finger in his pocket. There the doctors will stitch it back after several delicate operations and the non-idiot, after all this ordeal is over and he’s back at home, will either avoid knifes altogether (because of the trauma I guess!) or be more careful next time he decides to pick one up.

      This knife analogy, being in essence a general tool analogy, is good for helping us grasp the internet “problem”. A 50 year old internet addict who’s never left his basement, then, is the idiot who did not rush out to the hospital and who permanently lost his poor finger (– actually, he’s more like the dude who repeatedly stabbed his heart just… because).

  2. This might be of interest to you:

    Baudrillard: “And is there really any possibility of discovering something in cyberspace? The Internet merely simulates a free mental space, […] it merely offers a multiple but conventional space, in which the operator interacts with known elements, pre-existent sites, established codes. Nothing exists beyond its search parameters. Every question has an anticipated response assigned to it. You are the questioner and, at the same time, the automatic answering device of the machine. Both coder and decoder — you are, in fact, your own terminal. That is the ecstasy of communication. There is no “Other” out there and no final destination. It’s any old destination — and any old interactor will do. And so the system goes on, without end and without finality, and its only possibility is that of infinite involution. Hence the comfortable vertige of this electronic, computer interaction, which acts like a drug. You can spend your whole life at this, without a break. Drugs themselves are only ever the perfect example of a crazed, closed-circuit interactivity.”

  3. “So how does one stitch their finger back on, internet-wise? Or, in the internet example, what’s the hospital?”

    I find it hard to believe you are being serious, but perhaps you are simply testing me? Well then, I’ll bite.

    The solution to this internet-addiction “problem” is the same solution that all drug-addicts have used since the beginning of time to overcome their addictions. If you are unable to turn your smartphone off, or unable to impose some regularity on your drive to use it, all it means is that you are weak and there’s not much you can do about it. Complaining about your incapacity is not going to do anything about, though admitting it is of course the first step on overcoming it. Your friend Nietzsche himself identified somewhere in his Daybreak 6 different methods one could use to overcome one’s addictions, so you should check that aphorism out in case you need concrete guidelines.

    Note, by the way, that what I’m saying here about addictions applies also to “bad habits”, as should go without saying.

    • While a certain amount of facetiousness is called for when coming to terms with our absurd world, I assure you I’m just asking questions out of curiosity, or for clarification. But so, I don’t need concrete guidelines, I am just wondering if you have come across any sensible ways to overcome the internet “problem.” If it’s just like drugs and you can’t ever sever the feedback loop, then should we really should just stop complaining about it? Like, turning one’s phone off is A-Okay, but even I don’t do that. And here I am, promoting my virtual self. (I will look up the aphorism you mentioned.)

  4. Well, that wasn’t too hard to find. Daybreak, section 109 (quoted entirely because it’s such an amazing aphorism):

    Nietzsche: “Self-mastery and moderation and their ultimate motive. — I find no more than six essentially different methods of combating the vehemence of a drive. First, one can avoid opportunities for gratification of the drive, and through long and ever longer periods of non-gratification weaken it and make it wither away. Then, one can impose upon oneself strict regularity in its gratification: by thus imposing a rule upon the drive itself and enclosing its ebb and flood within firm time-boundaries, one has then gained intervals during which one is no longer troubled by it- and from there one can perhaps go over to the first method. Thirdly, one can deliberately give oneself over to the wild and unrestrained gratification of a drive in order to generate disgust with it and with disgust to acquire a power over the drive: always supposing one does not do like the rider who rode his horse to death and broke his own neck in the process- which, unfortunately, is the rule when this method is attempted. Fourthly, there is the intellectual artifice of associating its gratification in general so firmly with some very painful thought that, after a little practice, the thought of its gratification is itself at once felt as very painful (as, for example, when the Christian accustoms himself to associating the proximity and mockery of the Devil with sexual enjoyment or everlasting punishment in Hell with a murder for revenge, or even when he thinks merely of the contempt which those he most respects would feel for him if he, for example, stole money; or, as many have done a hundred times, a person sets against a violent desire to commit suicide a vision of the grief and self-reproach of his friends and relations and therewith keeps himself suspended in life: — henceforth these ideas within him succeed one another as cause and effect).

    The same method is also being employed when a man’s pride, as for example in the case of Lord Byron or Napoleon, rises up and feels the domination of his whole bearing and the ordering of his reason by a single affect as an affront: from where there then arises the habit and desire to tyrannise over the drive and make it as it were gnash its teeth. (‘I refuse to be the slave of any appetite’, Byron wrote in his diary.) Fifthly, one brings about a dislocation of one’s quanta of strength by imposing on oneself a particularly difficult and strenuous labour, or by deliberately subjecting oneself to a new stimulus and pleasure and thus directing one’s thoughts and plays of physical forces into other channels. It comes to the same thing if one for the time being favours another drive, gives it ample opportunity for gratification and thus makes it squander that energy otherwise available to the drive which through its vehemence has grown burdensome. Some few will no doubt also understand how to keep in check the individual drive that wanted to play the master by giving all the other drives he knows of a temporary encouragement and festival and letting them eat up all the food the tyrant wants to have for himself alone.

    Finally, sixth: he who can endure it and finds it reasonable to weaken and depress his entire bodily and physical organisation will naturally thereby also attain the goal of weakening an individual violent drive: as he does, for example, who, like the ascetic, starves his sensuality and thereby also starves and ruins his vigour and not seldom his reason as well. — Thus: avoiding opportunities, implanting regularity into the drive, engendering satiety and disgust with it and associating it with a painful idea (such as that of disgrace, evil consequences or offended pride), then dislocation of forces and finally a general weakening and exhaustion — these are the six methods: that one desires to combat the vehemence of a drive at all, however, does not stand within our own power; nor does the choice of any particular method; nor does the success or failure of this method. What is clearly the case is that in this entire procedure our intellect is only the blind instrument of another drive which is a rival of the drive whose vehemence is tormerting us: whether it be the drive to restfulness, or the fear of disgrace and other evil consequences, or love. While ‘we’ believe we are complaining about the vehemence of a drive, at bottom it is one drive which is complaining about another; that is to say: for us to become aware that we are suffering from the vehemence of a drive presupposes the existence of another equally vehement or even more vehement drive, and that a struggle is in prospect in which our intellect is going to have to take sides.”

    The above was written in 1881, so this “problem” has been solved for quite a while now (which, btw, is why I’m writing the word with inverted commas — because it’s not really a problem anymore).

    So let’s move on to the next “problem”, then!

  5. “I am just wondering if you have come across any sensible ways to overcome the internet “problem.””

    I believe the above aphorism is all you need to understand what’s happening. Those 6 general methods (“avoiding opportunities, implanting regularity into the drive, engendering satiety and disgust with it and associating it with a painful idea (such as that of disgrace, evil consequences or offended pride), then dislocation of forces and finally a general weakening and exhaustion”), are basically the only sensible (whatever you mean by that) ways to overcome any addiction/”bad” habbit. (I suppose a non-sensible way would be suicide, lol).

    Throughout my life I have already used all of the above in various degrees. Whether it was the drive to competition and being the best, or the drive to seek attention, or the drive to bang girls, or the drive to travel, or the drive to independence, or the drive to read philosophy (lol), or the drive to isolate myself, or the drive to drinking until passing out, or the drive to smoking a pack a day, or or or…

    Of these methods the worst you could use in this case is the sixth (the actively seeking out a general weakening and exhaustion of the body), mainly because indulging on the drive to use the internet requires almost zero bodily action and therefore also very little energy. You don’t even need to get out of your bed to turn your smartphone on, is what I’m saying. And besides you are probably not literally “hopelessly hooked” anyway, so there’s no need for such drastic measures. I love the fourth method because it flatters my pride: that’s how I quit smoking, for example: by first associating the idea of smoking to the idea of me being a little pleasure-seeking and weak-willed slavish loser who can’t see beyond a certain balance of chemicals in his addicted brain, and then reducing my daily intake of nicotine to 0% overnight. The first day was indeed hard (=fun, because easy is boring :), but the rest were piss easy. Why? Because each day I went through without smoking gave ever more strength to my pride… saying No started giving me more and more pleasure, until eventually even this pleasure started fading away and I stopped thinking about cigarettes altogether.

    So, yeah, whatever my personal experiences were (and may be in the future), I think the above aphorism really is all you need to know about this one “problem”. Indeed I think a careful and thoughtful reading of Nietzsche is all you need to solve all “problems” ever.

  6. I don’t know anything about you, so it’s kind of silly of me to give you concrete advice. I’d tell you to buy a flight ticket to an exotic country (say anything in Southeast Asia, Thailand or Vietnam for example, where you can have loads of fun for very cheap prices) and leave your laptops and smartphones behind, but you could be a billionaire dude who’s traveled to every continent already and finds nothing exciting about travel anymore. I’d tell you to start learning to snowboard, or to start learning how to skydive, but you could already be a champion at both these sports. Etc. Etc.

    This is why general advice is the best (and why philosophy is awesome btw). It can be used by everybody who’s smart enough to apply the general to his particular personal case.

    Anyway, time to regulate this drive to comment on random blogs on the internet lol. Take care.

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