That Feeling When by Nikhil Taneja: The internet—a toxic love story

Published on Apr 08, 2022 10:38 PM IST

New column: Caught in a space we have created ourselves, we must log off to make sense of why we log on

When our digital lives become a stressful extension of our real lives, it feels like we can’t catch a break (Hexcode)
When our digital lives become a stressful extension of our real lives, it feels like we can’t catch a break (Hexcode)
ByNikhil Taneja

I grew up in the 1990s, a decade which saw the rise of Sachin Tendulkar, Shah Rukh Khan and social browsing. Many turbulent events happened in the decade as well, but I remember that when the internet first happened to me in the mid-1990s, everything else stopped mattering, because everything suddenly mattered.

On the internet, through web pages that took light years to load, I could pay individual attention to the events that I cared about and the enigmas that fascinated me. From scrolling through the GeoCities fan pages on cricketers, to reading Bollywood movie reviews on Rediff, to ASL-ing random strangers in Yahoo Chatrooms, to, of course, searching about sex because OMG, the internet had pictures (and I was a teenager!), I could have lived on the World Wide Web forever.

The attention gap

Two decades later, it turns out, we are living on the internet all the time, but I can’t pay attention to anything at all, and I don’t know what to care about. Any time I fire up my phone—basically every 15 waking minutes—I’m sucked into a vortex of information that gives me both a high and a headache in equal measure.

I go from looking at stories of my friends living their best lives, to wait! a celebrity I love died, to OMG a cute puppy, to what?! there’s a new virus strain, to this meme is so me lol, to why is there so much injustice in this world, to damn! this person’s so hot, to wow, we are totally and completely doomed, aren’t we? And then I shut off my phone and go back to my life.

Except that I’m not sure where the internet ends and my life begins at this point. In the middle of an unending pandemic, unceasing inflation, an unforgiving political climate and now, an unnecessary war, social media is often the cure for my unrelenting anxiety and this unending sadness—until it is the cause of it. It’s my escape from our horrid reality, but also a fix of it. I scroll to remember until I scroll to forget.

Life as we made it

The internet today is that toxic relationship that each of us is trying to navigate. Staying in it can be awful for our mental health, but is staying away really an option anymore? Whether or not we like it, the internet is life now; it is a world as real as the offline one because we’ve collectively made it so. And, just like there was a time when we used to ’log on’ to find a way out of the mundane, we need to log off now to find a way back to it. Because in trying to care about everything all the time, we risk caring about nothing at all. 

Nikhil Taneja is a writer, producer, storyteller, public speaker, feeler of feelings, men’s mental health advocate and co-founder of Yuvaa

That Feeling When is a fortnightly column that offers a relatable take on mental health and emotional well-being.

From HT Brunch, April 9, 2022

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