Brian Lam of The Wirecutter responds to a Stanford study showing that people who spend more time online are less inclined to be happy. The onslaught of substanceless media seems to be tearing at the nature of being humans. Sound familiar?
Happiness is the most important metric in personal tech. If it improves lives, it is important. I’ve always suspected that sitting around on the internet was a sort of rot, but I had no proof until I read this piece on the Stanford study. I just don’t know why this research isn’t getting as much attention from reporters as new iPads, CEO changes, earnings reports, acquisitions, and other bullshit that only affects the greedy. People think I’m crazy for complaining about tech news and how stupid and boring the mass media internet has become, but I think they’re wrong. And I think most are writing about the wrong things.
Informationally, we are becoming lard-asses. In the pageview and ratings driven media economy, too much of the content these days is designed to be just like junk food to quickly boost quantifiable viewership. If you make content that is the intellectual equivalent of gummy bears, your site will appear to grow quickly. Advertisers reward size, and growing fast is expected in most places I’ve seen. Last month I visited Xeni Jardin, my blog-sister from Boing Boing and she said to me, “Only cancer and bullshit websites grow fast.” It’s happened to TV with reality shows, radio with clear channel, and it’s happening to words online. I’ve never seen a world-class sized publication that was founded in the past decade do world class quality work. It’s not because the people running them are dumb–it’s because they don’t have enough time to think their work through because there’s no short term incentive to. There’s an excuse there aren’t enough resources to go around, but that’s bullshit. It just takes a little confidence in the long game.
I quit all the online content that was id-provoking and knee jerk. I stopped reading the stupid hyped up news stories that are press releases or rants about things that will get fixed in a week. I stopped reading the junk and about the junk that was new, but not good. I stopped reading blogs that write stories like “top 17 photos of awesome clouds by iphone” and “EXCLUSIVE ANGRY BIRDS COMING TO FACEBOOK ON VALENTINES DAY.” And corporate news that only affects the 1%. Most days, I feel like most internet writers and editors are engaging in the kind of vapid conversation you find at parties that is neither enlightening or entertaining, and where everyone is shouting and no one is saying anything. I don’t have time for this.
Exploring the world away from the digital one is not so important for the sake of finding new ground. Internally, exploration is also about testing and growing the self and to live a life that isn’t painted by number. (I think exploration and adventure are essential to the happiness of every person, but I can’t presume to present this as anything but my own opinion. Most people are pre-naturally more happy than I am, out the gate.)
Get on, make the most meaningful information and connections, and then get offline. Then, live purposefully towards happiness. Because I’ve never met a person who spent their days and nights online that was happy as I am right now.
He’s right and important for people to be aware of it. Online life isn’t a surrogate for living and Internet gossip cannot replace a human tendency to communicate and interact with others. There’s a lot of garbage that get’s rehashed and distorted, then replicated and proliferated. Every publication is trying to offer their own opinions on the same stories without bringing much new to the discussion. News becomes desensitizing and subsequently useless. It may fill a void but it won’t allow you to flourish.