Talking of vices in a society, alcoholism and smoking has been right ahead in the race for decades now. They are still regarded as degenerating elements in Indian society as they are supposed inventions of Western culture. One may argue that the likes of such addictions were ever present in Indian culture as well, however the glorification of alcoholism and smoking as regular reliefs in a work culture or as a part of status symbol, are offerings of the West. So much so that such addictions have become an indispensable part of life for ordinary Indians. Provided the glorification of drugs, alcohol and smoke that is presented in mainstream media and movies, the appeal of addiction via imitation has increased. On other levels, these addictions are swift releases of ease in an environment of increasing stress, anxiety, and depression on a societal level. A British study claims that depression levels are higher in India’s corporate sector, about 42% in 2019. According to Lancet Global International, major cause of death between the age 15-35 in India is caused by Suicide. (For more details visit https://thediplomat.com/2020/03/how-committed-is-india-to-mental-health/.) Nevertheless, increasing addiction is a worldwide concern and many societies have dealt with it irresponsibly. However, it is not just drugs, cigarette and alcohol that should concern us in the present scenario, it is the very ‘nature’ of such addictions which is springing forth new concerns. One of which is the addiction of Internet.
Internet has in the past few decades revolutionized communication completely with a wide array of devices available to the public at throwaway prices. Internet with its accessibility to farthest corners of earth has given birth to a curiosity and at the same time, a comparability to cultures and life placed at miles of distance. The most engaging feature of Internet are the social networks which have provided a new paradigm definition of entertainment. It has constructed an artificial social reality which is marked with a community of netizens, connected with multilevel information and standards of approval. Though it is exciting to know what a people or a society at the farthest corner of the world are up to, it is at the same time entangling and dispensable information. The biggest fallout to Internet is that it gives an immense amount of ‘negative freedom’ than ‘positive freedom’. Isaiah Berlin’s Two Concepts of Liberty explains negative freedom as the ‘freedom from any interference’ when faced with choices of actions, while positive freedom refers to ‘freedom to act upon’. Internet has in one sense taken away the freedom to decide for ourselves by flooding us with options and opportunities. This might seem tricky. Negative freedom in abundance with all its doors of possibilities spread wide open might make us believe that we are the agents of decision in choosing what path must be taken. However, the lack of positive freedom shows that we are poorly equipped to make that decision in the first place and thus are prey to Internet algorithms and calculations.
Think of it as this, when you wake up in the morning and right away check your phone for notifications and news from all around the world, do you make a conscious decision? I would say, you are addicted. An addiction does not give space to a ‘conscious decision’ as it is part of a physiological or psychological habit dependency. Habits are formed in a long time and some might be results of repeated ‘consciously’ taken decisions. However, in the case of addiction, the habit becomes an unhealthy need such that withdrawing from it can cause its symptoms. Addiction is used for things whose urge is so strong that there is an impediment to any control. In this new age of high-speed bandwidth, androids and iPhones, Internet has become irresistibly easy and convenient for people to access for long spans of time. And one might say that sudden withdrawal from internet has its own withdrawal symptoms. One of which is what the millennial lingo refers as FOMO meaning ‘fear of missing out’. There is so much going on the social networking on a daily basis- the trends, trolls, viral stuff, memes etc. that it becomes irresistible to stay unconnected with the ongoing vogue. People feel that they might lose the touch from others and get odd out in conversations and mentions. And that is why they want to know every information that has overnight became the talk of the town, in this case the tinsel town of social media. The driving force of internet is the society supporting and encouraging it. It legitimizes the standards of social media, as the standards of ranking an individual. People have every achievement of their life decorated in the bio section of a profile, their display must be definitive of their personality, their posts ought to comment on their political standing and their forwards must reflect their morality.
Such is the world of a virtual reality, which has the same parameters for existence as any society does, social acceptance and prevalence of social norms. In contemporary individualistic social spaces where people have lost the confidence to confront people and build relationships, Internet provides a convenient space for a ‘disconnected yet connected’ inter-subjectivity. This space is addictive for it provides an illusion of control, control over constructing one’s social standing, one’s social life itself. In addition, the social networking tools and smartphones provide the power to delete and add ‘people’ in one’s life with a single touch. The problem with this addiction is that like any other addiction, it misleads and provides this illusion of control over oneself. The Internet addiction like other addictions makes one believe that he or she is ready for a choice when one is not. It is like giving an immature to take the biggest decision of their lives; without the knowledge of its consequences, he is made to think about the magnitude of the power he now possesses. Any smoker or drinker does not think he cannot handle the amount of poison he is to take. In fact, he is very much in bad faith about it. The addiction of Internet is easier than that, as it has the sanction of millions of people, after all if everybody is doing it, how bad can it be?
-Tanya Yadav (Freelancer)
Picture Credits: addictions.com