The many forms of our unhealthy internet usage
There’s no surprise that as our usage of the web and social media has matured, so too has the risk of unhealthy internet usage.
The web is amazing. Its gives us the ability to self publish. It’s made our abilities and our talents visible through blogs and websites. Through social media, we can reach out to almost anyone. We can create a following. And be someone inspiring to a total stranger.
But we’re also seeing a negative side to this. Where the world was a frontier and the enabled could move, we’ve shifted the goal posts. Maybe it’s not enough to merely write the things people want to read. Or give the tips that people add to their own journey.
You have to be everywhere and on everything. You make the products. Hell, you are the product. As we move forward in this digital world are we forgetting to ask some vital questions along the way?
Are we forgetting some important parts of ourselves may not gel well with this online infamy? Have we stopped to consider what unhealthy internet usage may look like?
Let’s take a look at some of the ways we may be doing ourselves more harm than good when crafting out our online life through unhealthy internet usage.
Workaholism as a national pastime
Workaholism is a significant issue in Australia. In a joint study by Ipso and Reuters of 13,000 workers worldwide, Australia ranked 2nd in the world for workaholism. 47% of us don’t take our annual leave. 1 in 6 Aussies are working 49 hours a week or more on a regular basis. We favour over-achievement.
Culturally, we accept long hours and working weekends, regardless if we’re working for someone or on our own business. We ignore the fact working too hard impairs our thinking and we motor on.
While Australians don’t perceive workaholism as a significant issue, studies conducted overseas tell us otherwise. Researcher Peter E. Mudrack found a direct connection with the workaholic personality and obsessive compulsive personality traits.
According to Mudrack, obstinacy, parsimony, orderliness and rigid thinking find a welcome home in the workplace. It is exacerbated by our working lives and begins to leak into less appropriate in our personal and family lives.
Such obsessive personality traits encourage our superego our superego to grow to unhealthy proportions. Perfection in our work becomes a focus, and we begin to train ourselves to expect it in life.
Our connectivity with work through the online world isn’t helping. We finish work and come home to check emails. If we freelance, we often don’t leave work at all. Our email and our social media creates circumstances where work leaks into each corner of our lives. Our unhealthy internet usage means we technically don’t get the space from work we need to rest, recuperate and reboot our thinking.
The desire for perfection is what can make us unbearably intolerant of others. We start believing our own benchmark of hours sacrificed at the work altar should be what others give, too.
We look for failures and cracks. And as our desire to chase perfection takes hold, we punish ourselves and those around us as we all invariably fail to make the grand.
What does any of it mean in the scheme of things?
Consider the concept of needing to be a ‘personal brand’ and the influence this may have on unhealthy internet usage Once you step into a world where work becomes your identity, things become quite difficult quite quickly. Once you are a marketing campaign, surely things become worse?
If your identity is tied to work, you’re at risk of becoming a faceless cog in an industry that has expectations of overwork and underachievement. It makes you vulnerable to redundancy and bullying in a workplace.
The thankless nature of employment means the approval sought will never truly satisfy. And if something happens to your working life and it is where all your confidence resides, what then?
In entrepreneurship, the line between you as a living, breathing human and your business identity blurs. There are you, hanging every part of yourself out for everyone to see all over the internet. You take risks, rub up against failure on a daily basis and try to fight a myriad of problems as they crash and clatter around you.
And yes, the occasional article will resonate about how much of a psychological toll entrepreneurship has on you. Or they’ll talk about startup failure with brutal honesty. And it will get people talking for a minute or two (a minute being a very long time on the internet). But not much will change.
The startup life conditions us to ‘go hard or go home’. We prime ourselves to say yes to every opportunity. Yet as James Altucher so eloquently put it, we fail to realise what we are really saying no to as a result. In the pursuit of admiration and adulation, where do family, friends and freedom reside?
And yet in either situation, we rarely question to true value of praise and accolades in the workplace. We fail to question the value of cheering on the unhappy and often unhealthy relationship we have with making a living.
Being surrounded by everyone’s life edits on social media and comparing against their longer, more mature stories cannot be helping. Soaking in unhealthy internet usage mining the digital world for ways to make yourself feel good- or worse- affirm feelings of inadequacy is not a happy way to live.
The internet could be addictive
What if our desire to be the popular and the present person online was actually akin to alcoholism, smoking or drug taking? Would we so quick to throw the parade for the internet personality then?
Unhealthy internet usage is starting to look a like addiction.
A group of psychologists from the USA and Asia are pushing for Internet Addiction Disorder to be included in the DSM. They believe IAD is as real and profound a problem as any other substance abuse humans face.
Unhealthy internet usage creates more of the same. We chase a small high among a long play game. This is not unlike gambling or sex addiction.
Asian researchers have done some significant studies into children and their online habits in relation to IAD. And they’ve found approximately 2% of teenage children have some form of online addiction.
In Europe, similar studies have been conducted. These results have been across many countries, so it’s hard to classify where the problems lie. But they’ve seen approximately 4% of adolescents exhibit a pathological relationship with internet communication.
You can see the pattern. Social researchers have a desire to translate this as a youth problem. We’ve only scratched the surface of our own unhealthy engagement with the internet as adults. Work, life and family revolve around the internet. So we fail to recognise the earmarks of our own problematic internet relationship.
You have to be in it to win it. And to be praised for it, too
The locker rooms have whispered about the online narcissism problem.
Those of us who finally banished the “I will never be famous” bug have been given a second chance.
Those selfies you take on Instagram and the desire to be all over the internet may or may not be causing psychological problems. Unhealthy internet usage seems to always be someone else’s problem. One with duckface or meltdowns or when it’s gone too far.
Yet, anyone that uses social media or checks the comment sections knows that internet trolls are an issue. We know there is rage, anger and arguments to be had. And we’re never entirely sure whether we should ignore, fire back with guns blazing or expend emotional labour in winning seemingly empty troll hearts and minds.
Meanwhile, as good folk grapple with the internet age question of whether or not to engage, trolls seem to wallow and dance in unhealthy internet usage, making a career out of bringing out the worst in us all.
The troll is often exceeding normal limits of sadism and anti-social personality markers. In an internet study on trolling by Buckles, Trapnell and Paulhus, they found:
“Both trolls and sadists feel sadistic glee at the distress of others. Sadists just want to have fun … and the Internet is their playground!”
But as Patricia Pearson points out in her pre-social media book, The Psychology of the Internet, our inhibitions are removed. What we fail to recognise is that the internet isn’t a creator of a new persona online. It merely magnifies the one we already have. Or lowers the barriers that usually keep us within socially acceptable limits of behaviour.
Being an angry troll online doesn’t happen if you are a sweet, wonderful person who has nothing bad to say about anyone. And the attention seeker will simply dial up the volume on the online behaviour. The internet is a tool by which the negative aspects of our personality can leak.
When we’re online, Is it really your identity?
We may see the unhealthy internet usage we engage in as phases and brain snap moments. But there is a permanence we forget to acknowledge.
Never forget that what you put online will stay there. Especially in Australia, where meta data is now collected. And while we may reduce the power of our words, we cannot always account for how we’ve made the person on the other end of them feel.
Don’t forget too that our opinions, ideals, careers and motivations change over time. The hippies of the 60s are now the Baby Boomers. Many a successful blogger has retreated into obscurity. We change and this is OK.
But how much change can you do when you’ve defined your personality online? How much of you is leaking through the cracks of the words?
Besides, hyper-connectivity cannot be good for us over time, can it? Yet the internet never sleeps. There is always more content to produce. Always more social media to share. There are new products to develop and courses we could be launching. There is networking we could be doing in groups or message boards we could be answering.
Only we can get smarter about how we use this expansive and pervasive tool. Only we can place a limit on how much damage it can do to us just as much as we can take advantage of the opportunity it has available.
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