I've been a little MIA lately. It isn't an accident. I've dialed back my internet time just a little on purpose. The internet is great obviously. I love it. But in my case I think I've over done it just a little and I think it's preventing me from developing some things in my life that I would like to develop. I want to share a little about the thought process that led me to this conclusion and what I'm doing about it.
What's kind of funny is that I don't know if I'd have realized this without the internet. The internet is both the cause of and solution to these various problems. The same thing Homer says of alcohol.
I developed my reasoning skills a great deal thanks to the internet. Back around 1998 I got involved in an email discussion group that addressed the Catholic/Protestant debate. My logic skills were poor. My writing skills were poor. But I enjoyed the debate enough to participate despite that, and my skills developed. Armed with better reasoning skills I attempted to defend the Bible and Christianity. You know how that worked out. Learning new facts (thanks particularly to the Secular Web) and at the same time using logic to develop conclusions, I was led away from Christianity. And I'm grateful for that.
The same thing happened with Republican type politics. Corporate media has a pretty loud megaphone, and without the internet I suppose I'd have continued to be led around by the nose in a manner they preferred. My view of the world and the US role in it had been the standard, rah rah, murica is the best, etc, and now I think it's more informed. This wouldn't have happened without the internet.
So the internet is good for human development in so many ways. But of course there's a lot of other stuff on the internet. Stuff that you do that doesn't really help you develop as a person too much. In the summer of 1995 I happened to be stuck in an apartment in Ann Arbor. Single, working as an intern, and with few friends still in town I was quite bored. I had a roommate that played guitar. I was always fascinated by it. Maybe this is not true for a lot of people, but to me it seemed absolutely baffling. How could someone possibly play this device? And sing while they played it, doing both things at once? It seemed so complicated. And yet I knew that all kinds of people did it. It had to be possible. And I was bored. So I asked my roommate and another friend that knew how to play to teach me. And they did. I still play. Here I am trying to play Canon. It's beyond my abilities to do it well at the moment. I'm sure I could improve. But the key is I developed a skill that is very rewarding to me. It brings me a lot of pleasure to strum and pick various tunes. I'm proud that I was able to develop a skill that at one time seemed so complicated.
If the internet in 1995 had been what it is today I honestly don't know if I'd have ever learned to play. There's too much fun to be had. Take this subreddit as an example. Hilarious stuff. You can kill a lot of time there and fail to be motivated by boredom to develop a skill that brings real joy.
Part of what contributed to my desire to reduce my internet usage was this subreddit on minimalism. This video is maybe a good example of some of the information that informed me. It's about a guy that lives an extremely simple life. If you watch it (it's 13 minutes) you'll see that he's in an apartment that is completely bare. I'm not advocating or not advocating such a lifestyle, but I thought it was kind of liberating to recognize that in terms of material possession we don't really need a whole lot. Since we don't lack in material posessions, what do we lack? We lack skills and abilities that require time to develop. We don't have unlimited time. You can go out and buy a possession today. But you can't just pick up a guitar and start playing. That takes time. Do I really value my golf clubs, my sound system, my cool TV, all the various crap stuffed in closets around the house? Not nearly as much as I value the knowledge I've gained in debate online or the skills I've developed playing guitar (and I know these are not great skills, and even still I value them).
So the reason I'm a little less active on the internet lately is because I'm trying to develop some other skills that are important to me. There are a few things that I aspire to do. One is to learn a foreign language well enough that I could converse in that language. To me it's like the guitar. It's baffling that people have this capability, and yet I know millions of people do it. So perhaps if I applied myself I could do it too. About a month ago I was thinking about this while at the library and I saw some materials for learning Mandarin. Why not? So I grabbed it and I've started working on it.
To succeed at a foreign language you've got to commit. My commitment may not be enough at the moment, but I'm dialing back internet usage to apply myself more to language. Maybe in the future I'll try my hand at Spanish. I've made a run at it before. I made progress, but not enough to where I could have a fluid conversation with a native. But maybe I'll try again with a more intense commitment. Maybe one day I'll try my hand at piano. I've always been interested in that. If I could do it I think I'd value that skill more than I value my material possessions.
A while back I realized that I was wasting too much time with sports. I'd spend all of Saturday watching college football and all of Sunday doing the same. I could easily waste 6 hours on a Saturday and another 3 on Sunday. What do I have to show for all that sitting? Knowledge of what happened during a sporting event that just doesn't matter. Not that I don't like football. I still like watching. These guys are impressive. But my prioritization wasn't right. I reduced the time I spent watching dramatically. Instead of watching the full Lions game I'll usually just get the highlights. Or maybe not even that (I actually don't know who won yesterday, or even who the Lions played). Instead of watching football I was reading books on controversial topics that informed me as I debated online. For me the knowledge gained there was a lot more valuable than the knowledge I would have gained watching a football game.
What I learned of football I think applies somewhat to my internet usage. I'm not planning on giving it up. I'm still here debating. But maybe just a little less frequently for a while as I try to work on some other life skills that will be rewarding if I can achieve them.