If the title of my article compelled you to read more, it’s probably because its antithesis holds true.1
We are so connected–on every level–that disconnecting both appeals to us yet seems entirely unattainable if not for allowable periods of time (e.g., sleeping). “Instead of using media simply to receive information and/or entertainment only at certain points of time and for a specific amount of time, many … have developed the habit of being online almost permanently.”2 (my emphasis)
A person may, for example, discretely read the news on their mobile phone while in the company of others saying “Uh, huh” at strategic moments of a conversation they are only in part following. This person is, in effect, “escaping” from reality by entering the online, virtual world. If, however, we define reality as the “ultimate online experience” (this idea is similar to what is presented in the movie the Matrix) then, by getting on the Internet, we are going online to go “offline.”
Whether we’re in a train, bus and “even when driving our [own] car,” we don’t stop communicating.3 We may choose not to communicate with the person seated next to us; we may, instead, be communicating with someone on the other side of the globe.
Vorderer and Kohring ask why we are spending so much time online, to the point that it’s almost permanent.4 According to these authors, we do this in order to feel included5 and, I might add, not to miss out on something. Stopping our permanent access to information and news would make us feel excluded and fear ostracism.6
With the heightened acceleration of modern life, we are also more and more online because “this sort of behavior is suitable to meet the communication requirements of our time.”7
As I read the above, I thought, Who defines the communication requirements of our time? Are they necessarily defined by and attached to the myriad digital devices we use on a daily basis, or is there an alternative?
Although reading the news on one’s smartphone while seated at a cafe (in the company of others or not) poses no immediate threat other than possibly offending someone by not devoting one hundred percent of your attention to them, thousands have literally met death or incurred injury by inattention while trying to negotiate driving or walking while engrossed in their cell phones.8
Where are we placing our attention?
In many ways, where we choose to focus our attention (and what percentage of said attention) appears to dictate where we are. How much of us is at the cafe, listening to a conversation? What part of us is learning about the latest natural disaster or reading our e-mails?
There doesn’t seem to be a clear cut answer to these questions. Vorderer and Kohring say that even after rewarding periods of time offline, “eventually all go online again.”9
If we define going online as getting on the Internet, then perhaps, like any other favorite product we use, moderation is best.
1 Vorderer, Peter and Kohring, Matthias. Permanently Online: A Challenge for Media and Communication Research. International Journal of Communication. Accessed on 30 July 2013. <http://ijoc.org/index.php/ijoc/article/view/1963/848>>
2 Ibid., 189.
4 Ibid., 191.
5 Ibid., 192.
8 “According to the Harvard Center for Risk Analysis, 2,600 people died in 2004 and 330,000 more were injured while using cell phones just before an accident.” DoItYourselfStaff. Driving Safety Tips-Statistics on Deaths By Cell Phones. Accessed on 31 July 2013. <http://www.doityourself.com/stry/driving-safety-tips-statistics-on-deaths-by-cell-phones#.UfpUx21uqSo>
9 Opcit., 190.