When plugging-out gives you connection withdrawal syndrome

by librarianincognita ~ July 20th, 2011. Filed under: Reflections, Wired World.

Over the weekend, I took a short break and hopped over to Vancouver Island to visit friends, took long walks and enjoyed the natural scenery – it was fresh air and a welcomed change from staring at the computer from morning to night. Unfortunately, I was suffering from a connection withdrawal syndrome. Every few hours or so, I would wonder about the tweets and blog posts I missed, the forum posting requirements that I have yet to fulfill… it hindered my ability to enjoy my time on the island to my fullest capacity.

I am not always like that. I don’t have a smart phone, my ipad is wi-fi only and I am perfectly capable of going on a long vacation and leaving the world behind. In short, I enjoy being plugged-out. It is important because there is simply too much going on and to try to follow every single online update would be to fry your own mental circuits. Enough is enough – the world goes on without you and you are no lesser for missing one update. In fact, being away allows me to listen to my own thoughts. When I am online, I am bombarded with everyone’s thoughts and after a while, I am not sure which ones belong to me and which ones came from the great big cyberverse.

So why did I feel such anxiety over the weekend? Was it because all of a sudden my online activities were graded and the opportunity cost of not being active online suddenly becomes greater? Or was it because I spent an excessive amount of time online in the three days before that I had gotten used to being plugged-in and removing it felt like something was ripped from me? I personally thought it was the former and that is very much centered around the word “opportunity cost”. It stems from the fear of missing some quintessential update which is in turn linked to how you are perceived. In an online class, it translates to “participation” which has a grade. In the online social universe, it would be missing someone’s updates that would have made you a better friend had you wished them “happy birthday” or “congratulations” or a word of sympathy for some misfortune. Part of it sounds silly (trust me – I know) but I have been at the lashing end before, being told that I was a lesser friend for not “expressing” my care and concern over the social universe. In retrospect, it’s hilarious but it was not funny when it was happening and it certainly shows that social media has redefined our expectations in relationships, especially if both parties are wired. I certainly do not think making token remarks on friends’ updates makes you a better friend so I do not see why not doing it makes you a lesser one.

That said, circling back to the first point. There are two worlds, the physical and the online one – they are not substitutes for one another and people are learning to live with both. The online world should not come at the expense of the physical world and if taking a break causes you to have withdrawal symptoms, then it probably is a signal that you need to get more fresh air. A sunny day may not be there tomorrow but the computer most likely will.

7 Responses to When plugging-out gives you connection withdrawal syndrome

  1.   Dean

    A lot of work in archives and libraries these days is done on computers. However, it’s important to be able to turn the computer off, go outside, visit friends and not worry about missing what’s going on online. Before you know it, you’ll be back catching up on what you missed.

  2.   librarianincognita

    I agree! But it’s so easy to get caught up working in front of the computers and before you know it, hours have passed. These days, many of the younger generation’s tolerance for the screen is getting better and better and hours are becoming longer and longer. No wonder everyone’s eyesight is going down the drain…

  3.   fongolia

    Great post! You perfectly articulated many of the anxieties I’ve been feeling this week, wondering what’s going in this class while I’m at work, on the bus, while out with friends… I haven’t quite found that right balance of work, school, and playtime yet!

  4.   Alison Dodd

    Although I certainly go through withdrawal when I disconnect for a couple of days, I actually find that I’m better able to gloss over the ‘unimportant’ stuff once I’ve come back. Unplugging tends to illuminate the information I consider important and allows me to cull the blogs/people on Twitter/etc. that I didn’t really miss the absence of while I was gone.

    It was my birthday yesterday and I went up to Squamish with some friends to swim in the afternoon; even then, I felt a touch of withdrawal, but not in the “I need to be reading status updates!” sense – definitely more in the “there are discussions for 559M and 562 happening without me and I’ve got deadlines” kind of way. Online courses are tough for that reason, I think – you’re always connected.

    My fiancé finds that he actually works more, not less, when he works from home, because the time just sort of gets away from him and it’s so easy to just “check one thing before bed”. Two hours later, he’s got part of another project done and is all fired up and can’t sleep…

  5.   erol

    Hi Felica,

    I often feel the same way. It’s easy to feel like you must constantly be active and up to date with blogs, discussion posts, twitter, and modules with this course. Balancing computer time and fresh air is part of the time managment, but why not combine the two whenever you can. Summer has finally arrived and this comment was written outside on my sun deck with a refreshing glass of rasberry lemonade!

  6.   librarianincognita

    I must say Granville Island Brewery’s rasberry beer is quite nice – I spent many sunny evenings indulging on it.

  7.   lynnpyke

    I can’t say I feel withdrawal but I definitely feel guilty for enjoying outdoors/ paper books/ anything non-computer. I feel I should be logged on working on course stuff.
    I do feel the need to be doing something at all times though. I have a hard time eating a meal alone without my computer or a book to keep me company. I often wonder if that is also unhealthy.

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