The internet is the ‘universal resource’ that we all use in the 21st century. However, our dependency on its use can have a negative impact on our health and well-being if we are not careful. Amaan Akhtar explores ways we can use the internet to our advantage by promoting healthy, productive habits and developing social skills that will help us reconnect with those around us in the modern world.
Do you ever catch yourself endlessly scrolling through a social media feed or browsing the internet on your device to kill time? Don’t worry, you’re not alone in this situation. The vast majority of people find themselves ‘plugged in’ to this golden age of technology - everything that we use in the modern world is gradually becoming digitalized and automated.
While this is a daunting prospect, these technological advances in the 21st century are not necessarily a bad thing. These changes in our society have led to vast improvements in several areas of life: including the ease of electronic communication on a global scale, as well as the increased convenience and efficiency within areas such as entertainment, housing, lifestyle, and travelling. Additionally, the consistent development of automated machinery and devices have made a monumental impact in sectors such as the education system and the health industry.
However, there is a caveat that also comes with this technology revolution. As we become more acquainted with the daily use of technology, we are detaching ourselves physically from everyone else around us.
And this especially happens when we use the internet. It has become the ‘universal resource’ for all of our needs. If you have to look up something quickly – ‘Google it’. If you need to update your ‘status’ or check your feed – log in to social media/open the app on your device. If you need to do some quick shopping – go online and browse retailer websites such as Amazon. And if you just want to look for general entertainment – you can go onto YouTube/Netflix to binge watch videos, or even listen to music on streaming platforms like Spotify.
The point is that we have become dependant on the internet for everything. And again while this is to be expected in this modern age, it becomes a problem when we don’t use it in moderation. Unbeknownst to many of us, internet addiction is actually a thing: while there is no formal recognition of this type of addiction yet, many studies have shown that heavy internet usage can develop ‘addiction-like’ behaviour. If this behaviour isn’t treated, it can result in impaired social and psychological functioning – or even mental illnesses such as depression.
Unfortunately, this is becoming a global issue as well: there is a steady rise in internet addiction amongst adolescents both in Western and Asian countries. So we have to ask ourselves honestly – are we spending too much time online? And if so, how do we disconnect and immerse ourselves back into reality?
Although the internet is essential for our modern-day needs, there are ways that we can become less dependent on it during the entire course of a day. In my opinion, I would never advocate a ‘cold turkey’ approach to disconnect from technology for a long period of time; this would inevitably cause more harm than good, as the internet is a vital tool for many careers and education these days. Instead, it may be more fruitful to adopt a more mindful, productive approach to our online habits.
For instance, more often than we realise, we use our phones, laptops, desktops, and tablets as a tool for procrastination. Whether we are avoiding work or studying, an awkward social interaction or even just using them to kill time while we are waiting – it is a serious problem that we all have. A way to counter-act such an issue would be to use our bad procrastination habit to do something productive while we are online. Instead of mind-numbingly scrolling through a feed, why not consider reading an informative article or catch up on the latest news in the world: there are apps out there like Flipboard and Medium which give access to articles covering a wide range of topics. You could even invest in Audiobook and listen to a book (or even bring a physical copy of one to read) while you’re on your daily commute. And if you want to be even more serious and limit your internet usage altogether, there are web extensions out there that will prevent your internet access after your certain number of allocated hours for the day are up.
Additionally, if you prefer some time to reflect and take a mindful break during the day, why not do some meditation, yoga or some form of exercise (walking counts)? These type of activities have been proven to have a positive effect on your mental health, as they help you clear your headspace and reduce overall stress. For those who are uninitiated in meditation or yoga – I’d recommend exploring the wide variety of YouTube channels and find a ’30 day beginner challenge’ for either activity. Alternatively, there are apps like Downward Dog or Headspace which provide a more convenient and quick session that you can fit in at any time.
But if you truly want to disconnect from everything internet-related during your break time, maybe consider writing in a journal: you can either write and reflect on your thoughts, how your day went, write down tomorrow’s schedule, or even practise daily gratitude exercises for 5 to 10 minutes. This will provide you time for introspection and will also help you organise your thoughts in an effective manner.
Finally, whenever you’re in company, actively put your devices away and be there in the present moment. Many of us naturally think that we are ‘present’ and are engaging with those around us – but as soon as a notification crops up, we lose focus and attention, and the conversation pauses as we check our phone for updates.
Similarly, can we really say that we are listening to what our friends, family and colleagues (or even strangers) are actually saying, when the majority of us are listening with a reply already formed in our minds, minutes ago? We need to start actively listening to those who speak to us: by maintaining good eye contact and letting the person finish what they wish to say without any interruptions. All attention should be on the speaker in front of you. Only then, should we take a moment to reflect on the conversation, and then answer with a response. By tweaking such minor (but crucial) things during daily social interactions, we can truly engage in a conversation and learn and cultivate on what has been discussed.
In a world that revolves around the use of the internet to remain connected and updated in our society, we compromise with the loss of productive behaviour and many crucial human interactions such as our social skills. But if we start to re-evaluate the way we use the internet and develop productive online habits, then we can become more mindful and grounded in the 21st century when we eventually disconnect for the day. And who knows, maybe we will eventually choose to remain offline more often, so we can have the opportunity to reconnect with those around us.
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