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Cyber Anxiety


For the information addict who has been restricted to major media and books for sources, the internet is as seductive as altered consciousness or corporate power. Because my early experience was restricted to just a few hours of access and we were encouraged to print in a local school computer lab, I was printing entire web sites as I looked for more.

I went home with a hundred pages of information and read it there. The public access program was cancelled before I really got started and depleted the school of its paper supply.

Nearly nine months ago, circumstances allowed me a junkyard computer and a telephone connection and my life began a rapid change. The change has its upside. I’m learning more every day than seemed possible a year ago. I’m enjoying that immensely. I am enjoying cyber communion with people I have never met and I’m amazed at how well one can get to know someone through irregular correspondence.

I remember how easy it was to get lost on links. Going so far from where I started, the browser back button could not get me back. Or so it seemed. It appears I have gained some control over such side street adventures, this time around. By subscribing to information I want to read on a regular basis, it now comes to my inbox. I read some and file the rest for later.

I subscribed to the New York Times headlines recently and I like the way that works. Read the headlines but no more than one or two articles each day, when I have the time for that. By discriminating this way I don’t spend half a day reading things in which I only have a passing interest.

has that commercial TV – radio – magazine feel to it. Maybe I should see it as building my resistance to consumerism. In truth, I am surprised at my non response to much of this advertising. I had long ago formed a habit of reading what came in my postal mail and others routinely trashed without a second look.

Thing is, I found the occasional treasure I was delighted someone sent me and I felt bad about all those folks who never found those treasures in the mountains of junk. Maybe it is only that I am a pack rat mentality. A recycler who sees some potential usefulness in another’s creation. Until it buries me and just has to go because I failed to recycle.

I was visiting a recommended link not long ago, feeling a little anxiety about not being where I most wanted to be. I was reading an article of my choosing and enjoying it. Then I came to two text embedded hyperlinks that shouted at me. Never mind this crap you are reading – click me, I am what really matters. I am why this article was written in the first place.

To get you to check me out, so you will buy something and profit the writer and me. A simple communion between me and the writer has now been interrupted for this IMPORTANT message. Now I feel the writer has betrayed me. Turned a personal communion into a sales pitch.

All of this goes through my mind in a minute’s time and I feel the anxiety growing. I resisted the urge to see just how important the commercial was, but I lost a minute of reading in my annoyed reaction. As I went back to my reading, I did so with half attention, stewing over what to me was a bait and switch sales technique and a betrayal of trust.

I only finished the article because that was my intention when I began. But there was no escaping the emotional state the author had likely created in me unintentionally.

Then I had one more dilemma. Should I contact the author and tell her the effect her marketing choice had on our relationship, spending yet more time involved in something other than my personal priority? Well, she was a fellow writer, so I did.

And then I made a personal rule. From now on I scroll thorough first. If an article has text embedded hyperlinks, I don’t read it. Maybe someday, just for fun, I’ll scroll the article, visit the links and skip the article, just to see how valuable the ads are to me.

I have learned articles are most popular when the word count goes from 300 to 700 words. This one is approaching 900. Is it making you a little anxious to be done with it? Is this a universal internet experience? I’m guessing it is. Get on with it! I know some internet activities can be totally absorbing.

Unfortunately reading is not one of them. Maybe commercial TV and radio have totally destroyed our attention spans and in cyber space we can change channels the same as the TV, with a push of a button. Maybe we just “know” TV screens are not meant to be read. If you hung with me, thanks. Move along.

by Ed Howes

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