Living Without the Internet?

One of the ways the Internet has changed everything is by providing a means where anyone can publish anything about anyone. Instantly. It doesn't even have to be true. It can be rumor or speculation. It can be hate filled. It may involve photos taken out of context or private in nature. And there seems to be no "accountability" for incorrect information either. Before the Web, we typically only saw this type of irresponsible publishing in the supermarket "tabloids" as it concerned celebrity gossip. However with the growth of social networking sites, blogs, and personal web pages out there, the Internet has become a potential trap for everyone regardless of what they do. What's worse, once something is published, it's virtually there "forever" and may affect everything from high-school graduation, future employment, and potential relationships.

The New York Times has this published this excellent piece on Internet privacy."The Web Means the End of Forgetting." It is a very long read but well worth the time.

Lately, I am hearing more talk about "getting off" the Internet and sometimes asked if it can be done. Is it possible to "disconnect" totally? My own "use analysis" tells me that I probably couldn't get through a single day without e-mail, my cell phone, and texting. These have become essential communications tools both personally and professionally. What about the rest? I recently deactivated my Facebook account and I am still using Twitter sparingly--that will change in the Fall when I use it with my classes. Same with Linkedin.

As far as news and current events, I like to begin each day with CNN, The New York Times, the Los Angeles Times, the Chicago Tribune, our own Indianapolis Star, AccuWeather, ESPN, and sometimes even TMZ. Without the Internet, I would have to go back to print versions of these or get my news from television.

Most of my classes use software such as Excel or Oracle or SPSS that could be run on standalone computers--but we depend on the Internet for research, technical specifications, company data, economic data, and to access Marian's academic "portal." Many of our assignments involve Internet research. We could do the applications but nothing else. And it would be off to the library for research.

Google has been my search engine of choice for many years--I used to use "Alta Vista." Anyone remember that? And I use "Bing" more often than I did. I think the Internet is a great "quick reference" for many topics--just make sure you verify anything important. There is no replacement for the search capabilities of the Internet--the only caution here is to, again, use reliable sources and verify anything important.

Finally, whenever there is a technical problem I can't solve, or a new piece of hardware or software released, it is great to be able to go to the Web to see what others are saying. This "collective knowledge" of the Web coming together to solve a problem illustrates the great potential of the Internet.

Maybe, instead of "disconnecting" entirely from the Internet, we think critically about how we are using it. I tell my students that the key to using technology effectively is to "make it work for you." Many of those who would like to "get off" are simply feeling overwhelmed by it all. My advice is to look carefully at everything you are doing on the Internet: Do you really need to take your cell phone everywhere? Why did you join Facebook in the first place? Are you playing "Mafia Wars" when you should be working? Same for "YouTube." Is keeping up with your "friends" on-line taking time away from seeing them in real life? Did you really want everyone to see those "Spring Break" photos? Was it necessary to use the "F-Word" in a comment? Are you constantly Twittering things like "I just went to Wal-Mart"? And who is "following" you? Bottom line: if it doesn't make your life easier or do your job better or it gets you in trouble--then quit using it.

As far as information "overload" and handling "disinformation." I avoid most on-line forums, chat rooms, and "comments" sections. That includes most entertainment sites too. My experience with these leads me to believe they are dominated by gossip, lies, and "trolls." Behind the "cloak of anonymity" some people will say the worst things whether it is due to prejudice, ignorance, or just to get a reaction. It is also not possible to know exactly who is saying them. That "NASA Scientist" may be a 12 year old who watches the Discovery Channel, the "hot 23 year old female looking 4 U" may be a 50 year old male inmate, and "ILuvMiley" could be a young fan of the singer or a dangerous on-line predator. Unless I know who I'm talking to, I don't respond to chat, comments, e-mail, etc.

I also limit my daily "input" to reliable news sources such as those listed earlier. Whenever I hear something that sounds "too good to be true" or is otherwise questionable, I typically go to "Snopes.com" or do a quick search to see if it is an "Urban Legend." Cutting back on e-mail can also reduce stress. Do you really need to check it so often? Or forward something to everyone that you know?

Hopefully, if you are feeling stressed out from using the Internet, some of what I've said may help you to deal with it. There actually was a time when we didn't have the Internet and we managed to get by. Today, however it seems like it is here to stay and for most of us a complete withdrawal would be impossible. There are actually many benefits from being "on-line" today. Just make sure that it's you who is in control.

As far as going "cold turkey," I'd like to hear from anyone who has ever tried to go without using the Internet or a cell phone. How did it go? What did you find you could or couldn't do without?

E-mail me at: asmith@marian.edu

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