I first heard about the Marshmallow experiment listening to one of my new favorite podcasts* Radio Lab a few weeks ago. The basic experiment which happened in the 60s tested childrens self-control in the face of a mighty challenge – to eat one marshmallow now or to wait and get two. They found that there were some children who were emotionally distraught over the idea of having to wait, there were some who tricked the system and there were some who were able to delay gratification. The study itself is interesting, though more interesting is the work that’s been done since the original experiment. The researchers were able to keep track of the original subjects and look at whether their reactions to the marshmallows were an indicator of how they would live their lives. Those who were able to delay gratification ended up more sucessful in their lives. The skills that they used to wait for two marshmallows ended up being the same skills that helped them study rather than party, and other similar choices.
I am reminded of the podcast by a New Yorker article I just read that outlines both the original investigation and the experiements the researchers are still actively pursuing. It all just makes me think about where I would fit on that scale. I feel like as a child I would have possibly been able to resist the marshmallow (maybe my parents would tell me differently) but now I don’t know if I could. I mean, I obviously could resist a marshallow in front of me but I have a hard time with delayed gratification especially when it comes to the internet. I think the internet will skew the data coming out. Here I sit with my wordpress page open, and up in my tabs gmail (with gchats going), fbook, the new yorker open and if I wanted to check something else at the moment I could. Then next to me is my phone with it’s own assortment of distractions. And everything is automatic. And everything is updated. And when you send something out you expect something quickly back in return. If an email goes unreplied over a couple of hours or even minutes you start to wonder if something is wrong. I see people online in gchat and I want to say something to them just so I can have them say something to me – even when there is really nothing for us to say. I crave the contact that the inernet gives me – that’s why I write on a blog as well. I want to know that my words are being read (and I know when I look at my stats). And I want to hear that people are responding to them. That’s why I get excited when someone comments.
The gratification that the internet provides because it is so instant is almost like a drug. It’s a high that I get from the instant ability to know, to share, to communicate. Frankly, it kind of sickens me, literally. When I’m in class or walking around if it’s been a while since I’ve checked in with the online world I start to feel it in my stomach. I wonder: has anyone written me, has anyone posted anything interesting, is the world about to end? and my thoughts which should be other places start to fly back and I find myself turning on my phone and releasing the pain of wondering. This is horrible. I hate it. I miss the days when the instant need wasn’t there. I miss living my life in one place instead of floating around the online world. And if this is the future – I think it’s going to make us all sick.
Seriously, I can’t read for more then 15 min straight anymore without wanting to check to see what’s happening outside the book, outside my surroundings, inside that little machine in my hand. This has got to stop.
The only time when I don’t feel surrounded by internet pressure is when I’m at the theater. For those two hours in darkness I can release the need to check in, I am taken to a world where emails and messages don’t matter any more. In the theater, and this happens even when shows are crap, I am free. This is obviously a pro in favor of theater in the new millennium. There still need to be places where you can escape the online world.
So, what are the next steps? How can I break the addictive qualities of the Internet. Obviously spend less time, yes. But I don’t think I can go cold turkey I don’t think I can go more than an hour without checking email – what if someone needs to contact me for one of the 4 summer jobs I have. I’m going to try to not sit at my computer longer than I need to. Maybe have my phone check automatically every half hour – for me to break my need to check it. I am going to try cutting back on facebook. What would happen if I just logged in once in the morning and once at night? and I am going to try to cut back on twitter. I don’t need to read every tweet. I don’t need to share the minutia right?
As for this blog, well, I’m actually excited to spend sometime on here again. It’s nice to have this longer form to write – especially with the restrictions of twitter – I’m tired of putting my life into pithy 140 word boxes. So, I will keep writing here. I’ll keep posting when things interest me and I want to share. But I’m going to try to stop checking stats. I’m going to start to think of this like I’m just posting out into the world and not checking to see if the world loves me back.
I think with the summer I can make these things happen. I can use this time to slow down (at least until my fringe job starts and I’ll need to be constantly in touch). I will relearn the art of reading for pleasure. Oh, delicious reading for pleasure. I will relearn the art of talking to people when I have something to say, not just because I am online and they are online. I will be more precise. I will be more intentional. I will do what feels better for me in the long run not just the instant guilty pleasure of checking in.
*someday in the probably near future I’ll do a posting on the podcasts I listen to. With my walk to and from campus everyday and my awesome iphone I listen to a couple of hours of podcasts a week – i fee my brain expanding.