Net Rage a meditation on life and Hamlet’s Blackberry
by Nalini Haynes
I believe feeling overwhelmed by our new connectivity is a common problem in this day and age. Net Rage is the new Road Rage. Our experience of road rage ends when that 4WD or sports car finally overtakes us so we no longer have someone honking and screaming abuse at us for obeying the road rules and being courteous to other drivers. We arrive home, park the car and get out, check the letter-box, then walk inside to check the virtual letter-box and find that Net Rage is being poured all over us in our own living rooms, a place that should be safe.
A while ago I did some volunteer work. One Friday afternoon I emptied my volunteer work in-box, only to receive a critical e-mail on the Monday morning because I hadn’t emptied my in-box all weekend. I became rapidly and increasingly stressed about this, and started obsessively checking my in-boxes, hating what I was doing the whole time. How many other people have done the same thing? Increased their participation in this rat race in order to meet someone else’s expectations? And begun to feel as though they are drowning?
Someone asked for assistance with using Facebook in a forum, to which I replied. My experience is that if I hadn’t replied in the forum, someone else would have gone to the extra effort of doing so at a later date, so I replied in the forum. Someone (not the moderator) used the forum to get my personal e-mail address and send me a critical e-mail (this was not the first he’d sent either). He had personally decided to take upon himself the role of moderator because he felt that the response was ‘off topic’. However, at no time did he criticise the person asking for assistance. So what’s going on here? I think we have people who do not know how to control the technology and are feeling overwhelmed, so they take it out on the ‘other drivers on the road’. That person and all the others who subsequently joined this conversation all appeared to have their e-mail settings set so that they received individual e-mails, not a daily digest, not important e-mail only and none of them used the ‘no e-mail’ option, where you only access the posts by entering the forum when you have the time and inclination to do so.
In Hamlet’s Blackberry Powers suggests that we can control the technology rather than let it control us, and he is right. Since feeling overwhelmed by volunteer work that rapidly became a full time job, I put the brakes on. I check the letter box on the street once a day, 5 days a week, so why was I checking my in-boxes several times a day from the time I got up until the time I went to bed at night 7 days a week? Since then, I’ve put the forum e-mail on important updates only, so I can go onto that forum occasionally to check what is happening. I’ve also reduced the number of times a day I check my e-mails, and sometimes I don’t check them at all.
Facebook can be a cause for stress. I’ve talked to people who have literally thousands of e-mails in their in-boxes because they spend a lot of time on Facebook, then receive updates whenever anyone makes a comment in a thread they have entered. There doesn’t seem to be a ‘leave conversation’ option available, so it snowballs over time. I think I’m a bit unusual in the way I use Facebook, because just about everyone who is my friend on Facebook is someone I know from places I used to live. Facebook reminds me to send friends a birthday wish, and if I log in once a day I can scan down my news feed to see if anyone has anything interesting or important happening. Sometimes it’s pleasant just to exchange small talk with a friend who is mourning the lack of sun in Launceston while I’m enjoying a beautiful sunny day in Melbourne. I also use Facebook to track whether The Guild has put up a new episode. Today Jinx sent out a notice that the sale ($7 off every tee) ends at midnight, so I bought hubby and son 3 tees each at a huge saving. I don’t feel overwhelmed, I’m content with this level of connectivity.
Mobile phones are a huge blessing and curse in one little handheld. Before I moved away from my daughter, the entire family would meet at a restaurant for dinner for most family celebrations. No cooking, no cleaning, just focused family time EXCEPT for my daughter’s mobile phone. Her phone would ring and she’d be gone, there in body only and often not even at the table. I felt that dinner out was rather pointless because not only did we not get 5 minutes uninterrupted conversation, but on a few occasions she didn’t even eat her dinner. When I’m out I hate getting mobile phone calls unless it’s from hubby or son, checking in for some reason. If people want to talk to me, they can call me at home and I’ll call them back if I’m out. That way they get all my attention. If someone wants to be sure I get a message, e-mail me! I don’t SMS. Ever. It’s about making the phone work for me rather than becoming a slave to the phone.
While I applaud Powers’ ‘internet Sabbath’, a whole weekend wouldn’t work in my family. Hubby’s idea of relaxing is to hook in to the net. He recently told someone he doesn’t want a shed, give him a computer any day. And my son would run riot if we instituted a weekend moratorium on the internet. The internet provides him with contact with his friends without being on the phone constantly, as well as being the arena for his games, Eve and Starcraft II. But I applaud Powers’ internet Sabbath principle, having visited it, backslidden, revisited, backslidden…
I believe it is vital that our social lives as family members and participants in communities are not neglected while we focus on our screens. Some time each week needs to be set aside for uninterrupted family time, even if it’s sitting down to dinner at the table with the TV off, or spending Sunday afternoon having a delicious lunch and playing a board game or watching a movie together. Preferably the board game or, even better, get out of the house away from the tempting distraction of the computers.
I agree with Powers one hundred per cent when he says we have to learn to control the technology and not let it control us. We need to disconnect from our gadgets to get the head-space we need on our own, so that we can then spend some genuine quality time with those who are important to us. To do that we need to be creative, and we need to install protective boundaries around ourselves just like we have fences around our homes and doors that shut and lock. Protective boundaries are different for different people, but important for sanity’s sake.