Tuesday, November 16th, 2010
37

Is The Internet Making Us All Crazy Or Just Me?

The other day an old friend popped up on me via instant messenger. We had lost touch in the way that you do, and hadn't talked in years. We spent an hour or so chatting and catching up—She lives out west now! She has an adorable daughter! Work is good! Etc.—and then went back to doing whatever we were doing before, which in my case was searching for bear videos and wondering how long it was going to be before I could take a drink without feeling kind of shifty about it.

Anyway, here's the thing: when I was remembering the conversation several hours later, something very strange happened. Well, not "strange," exactly, because it's something that has been occurring to me more frequently of late, and I'm not sure what it means. In my recollection of the chat, my friend and I were in a completely different physical space altogether. I mean, I was at my desk the entire time when we were "speaking," but in my mind the whole thing took place somewhere else, somewhere amorphous and unconnected to any physical location.

I don't know if I'm explaining this clearly enough, but I seem to be experiencing some sort of disassociation with the terrestrial when I think about these conversations. If I talk to someone on the phone, when I think back on it a few hours afterward I can see myself pacing around the room, head cocked against my shoulder. With an IM chat—depending on who I'm talking to or what the subject is—my sensory perceptions place me in a different, utterly ethereal zone. (The effect is even more pronounced if the conversation occurs with those to whom I speak less frequently or know to be "far away.")

This is not obviously something completely exclusive to the Internet. We've all had the experience of stepping out of a car and suddenly realizing, "Wait, I just drove all the way home and have no memory of doing it." But there's a very different feeling to this one; it's almost as if my brain is creating my own avatar and putting it in a space which lacks the constraints of time or much physical detail. I'm mentally talking to someone else in a vague and undefined area while I am physically "talking" to someone through a screen and keyboard.

There are all sorts of discussions about whether or not the Internet is "rewiring" our brains. I'm pretty sure there's at least something to the idea—God knows it's a struggle for me to read printed text in a linear fashion anymore without jumping to the laptop to investigate related information—but this IM phenomenon is throwing me a bit. Is this happening to everyone, or is it just another sign of my impending mental disintegration? Because I could totally see a case for that argument too.

Photo by Tyler Nienhouse, from Flickr.

37 Comments / Post A Comment

metoometoo (#230)

Yes, my brain is utterly, irrevocably broken, and it's the Internet's fault.

KarenUhOh (#19)

When I awake in the night, I hear you type my name.

It's a bad idea to chat up old friends on the internet. Next time watch porn instead. Your brain will thank you.

Am I going crazy or are there two Notanderson Coopers? And is one trying to extinguish the other in a tense hunt played out on the streets of New York?

Bittersweet (#765)

There can be only one…

@SYH: He likes ballet russe or crepe suzette while a hot dog makes me lose control. something something facebook.

MollyculeTheory (#4,519)

NotAndersonCooper y yo. He shares these preferences but in a vain way that turns them into the attributes of an actor.

No need to be disturbed. It's just your brain pickling itself; let that bacteria grow.

barnhouse (#1,326)

Weirdly agree with this. The place is question is something like the places in dreams. It has certain features, but they're not physical features. When the other person isn't there (like when you are writing email) you don't have this because you're by yourself really, but when you're on IM you're connected in the dream way. Oriented to the contours of the other person's mind, I think, is what it is. You can almost feel the shape of it in your thoughts.

dado (#102)

I hadn't read yours when I wrote mine. Eerie

dado (#102)

I had a dream last night that I went back to my Jr. High School and everyone was there looking 14yrs old but I was my current advanced age. I find IM chats to be similar, an idealized version of your chatmate invades your brain.

MollyculeTheory (#4,519)

Mostly after taking Ambien and then getting on IM. Now THAT is a bit of a mindfuck. "I am talking to you in a giant sweet and low packet in space, filled with marshmallows and text."

garge (#736)

It is most noticeable when I relate stories to other people and try to anchor the setting, and upon realizing that it was the Internet, the edges of the bottomlessness rise in my peripheral. And when I have spent a good deal of time alone while simultaneously communicating with others, I disconnect to feel a simultaneous hugged/slapped sensation.

C_Webb (#855)

Definitely a sense that you're two disembodied brains, talking in the Matrix. Also a very strange little death feeling when signing off. This is why I don't IM.

ericspiegelman (#3,421)

Well, it's just that your "writing voice" now has it's own life. Writing is usually a one-way street. You write, someone reads. But on IM, you are tapping into those same writing centers of the brain, but you've trained it to respond to someone else in real time. So your writing voice can now have conversations separate from your spoken voice. Which feels weird sometimes, because there's a whole other identity there, and it's a life that doesn't live in a three dimensional world.

People who talk a lot on IM before they meet IRL can sometimes be in for a shock. At least temporarily.

Bittersweet (#765)

Yes, but that 'real time' conversation is interrupted by other words (i.e., work, internet surfing) which adds to the disembodiment. Right now I'm IM'ing with a colleague while writing this, so it's sort of commumication multi-tasking, like reading a magazine while talking on the phone.

Screen Name (#2,416)

Maybe the Internet exposes nonlinearity? And this is crisis-causing because we are hardwired for explanatory narratives and to seek out linear causality. It is usually the first thing we ask from media; why, why did this happen? This nonlinearity has always existed, of course, but faced with limitations of physical space and time — limitations technology has helped us overcome — it was never readily apparent. The unexpected, unfamiliar and unexplained was always the outlier, the exception. As a result, our experiences pre-Internet were readily shaped by powerful narratives. These narratives were often self-created, with causality imposed from within upon a chaotic world, one we hoped would be solved by the promises of modernity; the company, the assembly line, the order of the urban landscape, the institutionalized translation of events into narrative cause and effect. By simultaneously shrinking distances and expanding both the amount of information we can access and the size of our social and cultural networks, the collapse of distance and the compression of time, we have increasingly been forced to confront nonlinearity; unpredictable events, effects of a magnitude far exceeding any causality, narratives that are no longer explanatory for our experiences. Just my three cents. Anyway, I love these kinds of posts by Balk. And now, for me, time for me to get back to the shifty drinking!

barnhouse (#1,326)

Is it crisis-causing, though, or greatness-causing?

Screen Name (#2,416)

Greatness-causing, ultimately. It's just hard to deal with for now. But then, I'm an optimist.

jerseyoutwest (#8,631)

I noticed this first with cellphones. When people only had landlines, I'd always imagine them in their kitchen (or bedroom or whatever) when I was talking to them. Now I don't really picture people when I talk to them on the phone, and conversations enter into the same sort of space.

metoometoo (#230)

This reminds me of the first time my BFF ever came over to my house in high school. She immediately asked to see my computer desk, because she liked to be able to imagine people's surrounding while chatting online.

DMcK (#5,027)

I wonder if this is how people felt when telephones first came on the scene? Prior to that you either wrote a letter (or a telegram if you were in a hurry) or engaged in face-to-face contact. Imagine conversing with a loved one's disembodied voice through some kinda newfangled doohickey for the very first time. In fact, I wonder if this is why little kids are so recalcitrant over the phone! You know, "Say hello to Uncle DMcK": *awkward silence*

Hirham (#1,709)

I do this all the time now while talking on the phone (something I only do every few weeks at most) or even with VOIP setups. I can't say it's happened to me on IM… yet.
Like jerseyoutwest, I suppose.

Brian (#115)

You just read that Harper's article on schizophrenia didn't you?

City_Dater (#2,500)

I think it means you need to either start drinking earlier, or stop altogether.

liznieve (#7,691)

(or never stop because of the heart breaking insight a beverage or two might afford.)

Yeaa…. my chats usually take place in a very Willy Wonkian, white-walled, anti-matter vacuum. Weird.

.egdoL kcalB eht ni ecalp ekat stahc yM

caw_caw (#5,641)

Don't know about crazy. It's definitely making me feel grouchy all the @%!^*#( time.

danbo (#8,510)

i used to have dreams about banging hot chicks who never talked to me in high school or about giant plastic dinosaurs getting sucked through a vortex in my bedroom floor, but now, increasingly often in my dreams, i see facebook news feeds that never existed. i can never remember what they say, and sometimes they are in another language, but i know that i know what they say when i'm dreaming, because they give me a very specific feeling, and i understand them to be funny or offensive or sad or mysterious. i know i have a subconscious desire and/or fear to text friends on my iphone because these are things i now do in my dreams.

Vegard Olsen (#7,383)

Welcome to cyberspace.

Elmo Keep (#3,840)

Yes! I also get a thing where I feel a sense of odd jealously when I realise the person I'm IMing with is also probably like me, chatting to a couple of people at once; whereas I feel when it's happening that the other person has my full attention, and only my attention.

IT IS SO WEIRD.

Rod T (#33)

Do you sell aspirin in your Second Life store?

DENNER (#1,763)

This is also noticeable when you take text or conversation out of the internet and put it in print. I recently used a question from yahoo.answers.com for some text in a zine I made (yes, zine), and seeing the question in print on paper was so sad, like the O.P. was dead and their voice just an echo. Or at least it became so clearly human and lonely. There was something horrible about it. Maybe because it was unplugged from that place in the internet where your voice is You, your avatar, your body, your cybersoul (cyber!). Like that place in Neuromancer where everything is cubes and grids, and kind of slippery.
I definitely have this feeling when g-chatting, and a noticeable "unplugging" feeling when ending a chat. It's creepy even if you are all for the post-human evolution.

Jim Demintia (#1,815)

This living hand, now warm and capable
Of earnest grasping, would, if it were cold
And in the icy silence of the tomb,
So haunt thy days and chill thy dreaming nights
That thou wouldst wish thine own heart dry of blood
So in my veins red life might stream again,
And thou be conscience-calmed—see here it is—
I hold it towards you.

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