What is netsickness?
“Netsickness” is a term I am coining to describe the sensation of isolation our new, hyperconnected age gives many of us. The principle is simple:
- As humans, we are supposed to interact very regularly with people who constitute our tribe. Even the people who lived in isolation would visit the village a couple of times a week and those who always stayed out of everyone’s way were either very low ranking or belonging to a mini-tribe of their own. In other words: whether it was one person or four hundred, we always lived among those we loved.
- The other situation under which someone would live in isolation was by force. This was where something about you was not accepted by the tribe. Everything from incurable illness to extreme behaviour, from disloyalty to simply being disliked, could be a motive for your people to evict you to the outskirts.
- Therefore, when we feel much affection for people and talk with them daily, we want to see them often as well. This shows us that we are wanted and liked and makes us feel happy and secure.
- When the people whom we most love are not near enough to us, we get distressed. To our primitive selves, these are the people who would protect us from danger, cuddle with us when we’re sad, feed us when we cannot feed ourselves, laugh with us over the day’s events. When isolated from them, we get the sensation that we need to get back to them as soon as possible.
- In essence, being separated from our tribe makes us homesick.
Enter the internet. It used to be the case that we most readily identified with those around us, but now we begin to form opinions and adopt ideologies that do not resemble those of people nearest to us. It also used to be the case that we would most often talk to those around us and nearest to us physically, but now we can spend all day and all night talking to people whom we will never meet. But our brains cannot tell the difference between people online and people in real life. To our brains, as long as they act and talk like people, surely they are people? With the key difference being that people on the internet are people we never meet. We cannot be protected, cuddled, fed or loved by them.
And that makes us homesick. In short, netsickness is homesickness induced by socializing primarily online.
But how do we maintain an ordinary online presence and get in touch with people across the world without making ourselves feel isolated from those we love?
How to detect netsickness.
- Do you feel a sensation of wanting to go “home”, without knowing where that is?
- Do you feel a constant desire to move, to get away?
- Do you find yourself thinking about online friends daily?
- Do you find yourself feeling anxious, angry and on edge after an online argument?
- Do you find yourself associating with online and in person friends on the same platform?
If you answered “yes” to all the above, you are suffering netsickness. You have allowed your online relationships to become connected to your in person ones and as a consequence you want to go out and meet up with your online friends.
How to prevent and cure netsickness.
1: Isolate platforms.
Separate where you talk to online friends and associates from where you talk to in person friends and associates. Also separate the places where you debate from the places where you interact in a friendly manner, maybe even create accounts for each type of interaction.
For example, as it stands for me:
Facebook, email and linkedin are primarily where I associate with people I actually know.
WordPress and twitter are primarily where I associate with people I like.
Reddit is primarily where I debate.
By keeping them all mostly separate, I reinforce a sense of real life versus the internet, and create an environment where I am comfortable versus one where I welcome abrasive conflict.
2: Restrict online time.
Sometimes the issue is simply one of time dedication. When we spend so much time on the internet we might start to feel as though this is where our lives take place, especially if we are dedicated to one or two sites.
In order to prevent this, consider the following measures:
- Permanently block websites where you waste vast amounts of time unproductively, or getting wound up.
- Add a time limit using a tool such as leechblocker onto each individual social site, so that you do not spend too much time on one particular one.
- Make a point of splitting up time online with real life. Log off every hour and go for a walk, do some chores or just focus on writing and other work.
If you make a point to not live online, then you are less likely to feel bonded to people you do not actually know.
3: Make time for people.
In the same vein, try and make time for people you know in real life. When you put the internet before friends and family you can end up growing isolated from both groups, resulting in a genuine loss of belonging.
The time required with people varies from individual to individual, but in my case it looks like this:
- See Jon daily, preferably for most of the day, even if we do not speak.
- See at least one other person, but no more than three.
- Once to four times a week see someone other than Jon, for reasons other than work.
- See specific individuals every 3-6 months.
- Have the odd day where there is no contact but Jon.
When I do that, I feel like ties are maintained, I feel sociable but not tired from excessive socialization.
4: Meet up.
We will always meet one or two people online whom we connect with on such a basic, natural level that regardless of intermittency of contact and an active social life, we will want to spend time with or around them. This will always result in a sense of longing, as these people have become like our own blood relatives, just because of our shared personalities, matching interests and compatible opinions.
So when all else fails: meet. This does not have to be a physical meeting, but merely breeching the barriers of the internet and reality. Seeing as these people have already become a priority to us, it would be worth our while to add them to our friends on facebook, our email contacts or our skype.
And that is the matter of netsickness, laid out.
Have you ever been netsick? How did you deal with it?
TTFN and Happy Hunting!