Attention, Anxiety & the Internet
Posted by rebeccab2828
As I’ve often mentioned, my day-to-day life is very virtually centered. My work is completely internet-based. I am taking several continuing education courses online and I am now pursuing this program though Stout. Even my social and romantic life have a significant digital component. This week’s assigned reading from Net Smart, by Howard Rheingold, was very relate-able. In particular, I identified with the first chapter that discussed how our attention can be taken over by our use of digital media.
When email makes you anxious.
Media expert Linda Stone, hit a nerve for me when she said, “we’re putting our bodies in a state of almost low-level flight-or-fight (Rheingold, 2014, p.45).“ Lately, I have begun to notice anxiety creeping in to my virtual world and not necessarily “low-level” as she describes it.
I have struggled with anxiety for most of my life. The anxious state and panic can often occur just easily if I’m out in the “real world,” versus if I am behind my computer screen. It really just depends on where I am when an anxiety-producing catalyst comes along. Perhaps the only difference is that I can hide it a little better when I am in the comfort of my own home.
I have been noticing a peculiar shift lately. Recently, my daughter was going through some health issues. Because of some extenuating circumstances, I was required to rely extensively on emails to communicate with some of the specialists and insurance professionals that were involved. Then during this same time period, I was negotiating some financial issues with my ex. I had a friend who was going through an exhausting emotional stretch and reaching out via email. Then, there have been some very stressful work-related issues that are also being communicated primarily though email. I am used to the internet being my vehicle to conduct much of life, but suddenly it was being inundated with negative interactions.
I am embarrassed to admit this, but several days, I have found myself lying in bed and not wanting to get up. I can’t avoid the computer because a lot of the ways I use it, aren’t optional. During the week, I actually share countless loving emails and instant messages with my significant other. We are both single parents with a lot on our plate, so it’s our way to connect and share romance. This is a daily habit that usually drives me out of bed to see what is waiting there for me!. Of course, there were some other positive emails I would be getting as well. But, during this little pocket of time, the dread and anxiety I felt at having to go face my email box, and be ready for whatever stressful ones came in, was just overwhelming.
Attention isn’t always up to us.
Perhaps the gravity for me is because the internet is more than just “digital stimulation” for me. It isn’t something that I am addicted to because I crave it per se. It’s really the village I call “home.” I shop at the store there. I communicate with everyone. I work there. When my marriage was crumbling, I (occasionally) felt that same way about getting out of bed. I didn’t want to know what going to happen in my home with my ex-husband–but I knew once I got up, whatever stress there was to be had, would be unavoidable. Now my “home” is more than a building. It is also a complex ecosystem of digital technology. I cannot always control or mindfully avoid, some of the incoming data that impacts my “online” home.
I am going to spend some more time rereading this chapter as I am fascinated by the concept of “attention” and how we use it. I also think it is worth considering that the degree to which one can control their attention or minimize where they turn their focus, is dependent on their relationship to digital technology–how much of their interaction with it is in the realm of optional, versus how much is a non-negotiable aspect of their day-to-day life.
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