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Internet Anxiety Disorder Anyone?

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Broadband brings the world right to your laptop or your handheld. With it comes information, and along with it comes desire to stay connected, and on top of everything. Welcome to Internet Anxiety Disorder, a malaise that is more problematic than that blog fatigue.

Back in the early 1990s, the blinking light of a voice mail machine greeted me every evening when I walked into my Astoria, Queens’ apartment, after searching for a job or doing odd jobs during the day. The red LED’s every blink either held a promise of a new start, or perhaps disappointment of being stuck in a rut. Occasionally, there would be a message from one of my dozen odd friends. Still, that damn blinking light caused me anxiety, a lot of it.

A decade later, voice having been replaced by more instantaneous forms of communications , broadband enabled of course, I find myself suffering from a new more intense form of anxiety which I call the Internet anxiety disorder. Let me elaborate.

We live in an always on, ever connected world. My phone, wireless and wired rings constantly, and missed calls and voice mails pile-up even before the coffee stops brewing early in the morning. There are tips from sources, a friend on east coast on his way to work wanting to recap the Yankees game, and an occasional message of concern from mom! Time to boot up the computer and be greeted by an early morning assault of emails, sometimes as many as 100, and that’s before Sun’s first rays caress the Coit Tower. A quick puff of Dunhill and the newsreader shows, 1000 unread posts. A few instant messages!

By the time I get to office, I feel I am in data smog. As the day progresses, the emails pile-up, many unanswered for days because the feeling of being overwhelmed. The damn posts keep rising and rising, hitting 2000. Phone calls with sources, only add to the content flowing into the brain. I find myself falling behind on answering emails, reading stuff and even just contemplating. Phone calls, are shorter, terse and often remiss of any politeness.

Welcome to the age of info-clutter!

Today in my apartment at any given point there are six to ten books, open, partly read. Magazine articles, clipped for later reference, and half assembled notes. The disjointed conversations that I have read in Net News Wire are jumbled up, often making me wonder what was I wanting to write/blog about to begin with. Multitasking gone wild?

On a more personal level this constant flow of info-gusher right into the brain is going to have a negative effect eventually. Irritability, the inevitable desire to keep up with what’s happening – everywhere. The dreaded question: what did I miss? What’s happening in the world out there? I feel I can react, not ponder. Forget the sound bites, are all becoming victim to the dread blog bite. That one line zinger, that one bit of snark which either others will love or hate.

Broadband while great has its side effects. The rush to catch-up and living a six megabits per second lifestyle, is what I think is going to be first major malaise of the 21st century – Internet anxiety disorder. Are you seeing the signs of this? Because I am.

Blake Ross: I really believe the Internet hardwires developing brains with a click-happy sense of urgency that will not defer to reality. We are addicted to information and seek it even when we know it’s not available.

Nerd Attention Deficiency Disorder/ I need rapid fire content delivery in short, clever, punch phrases. Stop reading right now and take a look at your desktop. How many things are you doing right now in addition to reading this column? Folks, this isn’t multi-tasking. This is advanced case of Nerd Attention Deficiency Disorder. I am unable to function at my desktop unless I’ve got, at least, five things going on at the same time. If your count came close, you’re probably afflicted, as well.

Justin Blanton: The Internet has a way of making us want to peer around the corner, to look over the edge, to click on the next link %u2014 in short, it exacerbates the human desire to learn and share.

Russell Beattie: I wonder what that sensory thing is that I’m trying to duplicate is? Is it learning? Am I addicted to learning? Is that a bad thing (Yes. Any time you use the word addicted it’s a bad thing). Or is it the sheer novelness – I can’t wait to discover something ‘new’?

56 Responses to “Internet Anxiety Disorder Anyone?”

  1. peter

    The internetis a system so archaic that the light has barely touched the surface. The search engines have failed miserably. 8,5 billion web pages, and google cannot keep up. We are drenched with information and yet specific info is getting harder and harder to find. Where are we heading as a community, when we continue to complicate the world instead of making it a better place to live in.

  2. i do agree with you – time to take a deep breath and basically pause in between all the madness. i really think this hyper activity is going to affect long term strategic thinking. i am taking a day off and slowing down for 24 hours if nothing else. this is going to be a tough addiction to break.

  3. Om, novelty seeking behaviour is inborn to humans. For some the barrage of online newsfeeds can become a real problem, often before a background of attention deficit disorder. There are two types of ADD, the well known one which shows hyperactivity, and the mostly unknown one which is characterized by inatentiveness. For anyone concerned, I’d recommend reading up on the topic, e.g. at There is help and hope out there.

  4. Great article. Its all about prioritising, forming replies to regular questions. Learning to scan your news reader (or modify your settings.)
    Sort emails into folders – delete, reply, action etc and allocate a part of your day to do that.

  5. the first time i experienced this was back in 2004, when i was in India and well felt a tad disconnected in that sense. hopefully i am going to be able to work through this soon enough. the detox has begun

  6. JAmes Wilmington

    When I spend some time away from my internet connection [say at my paretns house] I get the addicted sense of loss and anxiety that means I have been away from the net too long. Its not pleasant, so I have to find a connection somwhere…even if it is a public library or something.

  7. I have been saying this for years already – we are becoming an alienated society, with anonymous online pals we know little or nothing about, and few real ones – it isn’t human, somehow.
    A while back I wrote to someone who sent me an email asking for my ideas about stress/computers – it is the link I provided

  8. minniebarmink

    The choice of whether to be informed or overloaded is our own. The disorder kicks in when we decide that communicating with our friends or relaxing in an information free zone is to much to handle. I’d call that a prioritising disorder. I’m logging off now to have coffee with my neighbours. I hope I don’t miss out on everything that happens in the 55 minutes I am away from my desk, but somehow I reckon it will be ok.

  9. i think this is the new abnormal. new normal might be faster, more click happy, but not like the way we are becoming. the reason – the brain is a processor which learns and improves over a period of time, but it doesn’t follow the moore’s law. i think we are in need to get some context. as someone said earlier, this just might be the newness of a broadband life, we are experiencing this and soon perhaps find equlilibrium.

  10. I empathize…however, could it be that we are the new normal (to paraphrase Roger McNamee), and the rest of the world is old normal? If so, they need to hurry up and catch up so we don’t seem so out of place.

  11. Christian M. Kamel

    the inevitable desire to keep up with what’s happening – everywhere.
    Exactly what I was thinking the other day, this desire is taking years off of our lives. I also wondered if the people who “make” the news themselves have this desire to keep up. I am under the impression that as long as you’re trying to keep up with all the news, you’ll never get to make the news…

  12. Not taken straight – proper credit and basically pointing out what others are saying about something like what i had said. so just a different point of view. though don’t get your point

  13. Scott Vermillion

    NADD would seem to be a natural condition of being an Internet journalist…

    Perhaps most of us ought to lift our little spider legs off the Web on the weekends; make the weekends sacred. Hell, humans have been inventing sacredness for millenia. Make the weekends sacred.

    (Responding to this post on a quiet Saturday morning.)

  14. Mr. Malik appears to be one of the sadly growing number of people sadly afflicted with what I like to call eWit iDiagnosis BroadNetBandInterWebalosis, or the often sudden and intense need to match one’s own witty terminology for nonexistant illness (invented to remain a “player” in today’s crazy info-world) up to the barometer set by such seething abundances of literary talent as PC Magazine.

  15. This story is as old as time. It’s called competition. Only this time around, the cards are the table for everyone to see: Knowledge is power. Know more than thy neighbor, weild more power than thy neighbor. Weild more power than thy neighbor, buy more, enjoy more, _be_ more than thy neighbor. It’s the ultimate ego trip, unless of course your mind can’t handle the work.

  16. You must neglect/progressively eradicate tasks which you no longer find necessary, may it be IM or E-mail, for example. You must make compromises when it comes to the number of information sources because, let’s face it, we have just 1 brain and 24 hours in the day.

  17. That’s why we try to simplify the software that we build and make it so that is just works. I’m of the philosophy of getting folks in and out of the web/browser experience, give you everything that you need and then out so you can go have fun with friends, go on vacation etc.

    Information overload is a problem. Software vendors can help by making simpler software. We’re looking to make our software smarter as well.

  18. We are constantly being bombarded with information. Be it emails, IM messages or SMSes. This is just the push stuff. Then there is this other half, the pull stuff. Blogs, news, websites that we choose to visit several times a day. Hey, this is supposed to be the information age, not the information overload age. Even I am sick and tired of all the emails/blog posts piling up in my unread list.

  19. So you guys know exactly what i am talking about. I think it is the unintended consequence on trying to analyze something in a more thoughtful way which you loose when you are assaulted by so much information. I think less blogging is one cure, but it is how to deal with the information assault which one needs to worry about!

  20. i started a brutal home reno on an old house four months ago that all but forced me to keep offline and stop reading most blogs. the anxiety level has reduced considerably and i hardly want to bother reading email now at home. a strange but effective cure, unless of course you work from home as a journalist.

  21. the ‘paradox of time’ principle can be applied here. the more we try to reduce time spent in managing information (from paper to e-mail etc.), the less time we find ourselves left with.

  22. Charlie Sierra

    Om, I feel for ya.

    I regularly take 2-4 day breaks from the web etc. and its nearly impossible to check up.

    But what really worries and annoys me to no end is the crappy service providers.

    In my case that means Comcast. These evil bastards can not operate a DNS server to save their lives.

    So where are we to channel our net-rage?

    PS. The wireless carriers are just as bad. Does anybody else regularly get voicemail msgs many hours to several days late?

  23. Om, I can only add one thing to your post. All this data makes me lose sleep. It feels like if you miss a few hours or even (gasp) a day, you’re in data overload for hours or days afterwards. This whole blog thing has only made it 10 times worse. Work all day with data, blog at night. It’s exhausting.