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Is The Internet Stealing your Life? by Asif Zaidi

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In the midst of our hectic lives these days, all of us need to seek and cultivate calm. Several years ago I realised what a nuisance television has become in our lives and how keeping TV on in the background triggers a negative, numbing, and often demoralizing effect.

Thus, I made a decision: no more cable or satellite TV except for watching, on purpose, the sports I love. Except that, I watch no TV and my news comes from the internet sites where I can choose what I read or watch. More recently, I realized that now internet is gaining unwanted control over my daily routine, as I have granted it permission to entangle me at most times and in most places. I realized that I am always looking for ways to get sucked deeper into the world of the internet. And if I am not at my computer, I am fiddling with my phone or downloading a new app. The first thing I do when I open my eyes is grab my phone, which sits quietly on the side table next to my bed, regardless of the various theories on why you shouldn’t keep your cell phone next to you while you sleep. It’s not my fault. It’s the dopamine, it’s addiction, with the choice drug being www.  Again, I have decided to apply the brakes by learning to say no. Regardless of whether or not your job, lifestyle, or education has anything to do with the Internet, if you find yourself spending more time with your gadgets than with your loved ones, you need to find a way to get that addiction under control, and put your Internet knowledge to work for you.

The internet has reshaped our life, making it easier for us to fit together all its bits instead of waiting them to happen in different places. Now you can go shopping at 4am or chat face to face with a friend on the other side of the globe with less effort than knocking on your neighbour’s door. Personally I think the Internet is fundamental, it's like saying how we could do without the printing press, the written word or recorded sound. As a tool it is a profound enabler, but it is just a tool. People take it as the end when it's really just the means. I have also seen people addicted to their phones because they love to talk, it is just that the internet’s spell is more ubiquitous and encompassing.  The Internet stands as one of the end points of a huge journey of human literacy - the ultimate mash-up of printing press, telephony, and computing and it took us hundreds of years to get here. But the Internet can also steal away many hours out of your day in the blink of an eye, and when you wake up you could discover that much of what you once loved is no longer there. So, it all comes down to whether or not you feel like you are in control of how much you are using it.

Our world has verily become a village. From the minute details of the celebrities’ private lives to the public beheadings by the IS and the Taliban in remote lands can be looked up and watched on the internet where it becomes available almost instantly. In my childhood our family was the cynosure of the neighbourhood, not because we were any different from others but simply because we were the first ones to install a device called telephone that would receive calls and allow emergency calls to be made for most households in the neighbourhood. As a child I was weary of this constant encroachment on our childhood privacy for mischief and missed the days when we got along just fine without one. Now when my smart phone loses connection or the internet connection malfunctions I start getting a heart attack. In civilized surroundings, I do not like the smell of the air that does not reek of WI-FI laden with all the information in the world waiting to present itself when I need it. How did I get from there to here? I have only the vaguest idea - it all happened so fast and is still happening. I feel sorry for my ancestors for the great lives they could have in our sophisticated modern world where an exile from internet is considered a tragedy to bear. One can sit at home all day, gathering news of a world in crisis, hotly debating the matters from Liberia to Mongolia that my ancestors would have been contended to die without knowing anything about. They thought that knowledge was power. I would have liked them to know that now that knowledge is there for anyone’s taking, it has been established that only power is power, and power is still attained by humans in the manners that humans have always attained it – through muscles, force, and violence.

Perhaps the internet allows us to know much more about fellow human beings than is prudent. Perhaps the internet seethes with a lot more prejudice, bigotry, adulation, anger, stress, pain, violence than is wise for us to know unless we are summoned to handle it.  Hence, unless you consciously control all the bits of life for what they mean, the internet can fill in for almost every bit. I noticed that my kids have not acquired the habit of gazing out of the car’s window, which was one of my favourite activities. Often, even when travelling through beautiful scenery, they are looking at their phones connecting with the outside world while missing out the one that is there to enjoy. We all recognize this syndrome. I think, awareness of our digital consumption is an important aspect or our mental health and overall wellbeing. Technology addictions can lead to increased stress-levels, shorter attention spans (especially in kids), irregular sleep-patterns and poor sleep. So far, I have not come across any thorough research into the long-term effects of dopamine on the human brain in the age of Twitter, Facebook and e-mail.

The most important thing to watch out for while using internet is time management. The internet is the most imperceptible thief of our time in today’s world. We need to inculcate the skills to not to let the internet steal our time. To start with spending time online must be a choice rather than a default setting. Over the past few years, I have wasted too much time ambling on Facebook, doing needless research, looking through pictures on Flickr, and reading my favourite newspapers. From personal experience, I realized that the time I waste unnecessarily on the internet is important not just for me instead it is important for a number of other people in my life. The time I waste online makes me unproductive and has no result to show for its use.

With Internet time management, you can make yourself more focused on the important aspects of life. The purpose defines whether or not the time we spend on the internet is useful. The time spent on the internet must be proportionate to the purpose in mind from serious work-related use to minor online shopping to social networking. Try and be mindful of how much time the task you are using the internet for needs; otherwise there is absolutely no end to surfing and researching on the internet for any purpose. Reading the coverage of the same news from fifty different sources doesn’t make you any better informed. Online gaming is a total waste of time, for instance. Schedule as many offline activities as possible to minimize the internet’s interference in your life.

The internet is an effective way of keeping in touch with friends and family but that is where it should stop – keeping in touch. It is not a substitute for real socializing. Avoid wasting your time looking at the details of other people’s lives unfolding. Allocate time for activities like checking emails, scouring online shopping sites, or following friends and family on Facebook. Once the time limit you set is reached move on to more productive work to real life. When working on computer, commit yourself to focusing over several hours without doing any Facebook, emails etc. Complete the task at hand and then reward yourself with a set amount of time on social media, online shopping sites etc. You can also use time management software like Toggl (https://www.toggl.com) to track and measure your productive and wasted time spent on the internet. You can switch off your push notifications, and even switch off your Internet connection. Mac and Windows users can use an app like Freedom (https://macfreedom.com) to switch off your Internet connection for up to several hours at a time. Those who need the Internet for work can switch off notifications that tend to distract them. They can also use tools to make sure that they stay focused on the task at hand. Mac users can use Mission Control (http://support.apple.com/kb/HT4689) to separate work and pleasure and Windows users can employ a program like Desktops (http://technet.microsoft.com/en-us/sysinternals/cc817881.aspx) to achieve the same effect.

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