This feeling when by Nikhil Taneja: Internet, a toxic love story

I grew up in the 1990s, a decade that saw the rise of Sachin Tendulkar, Shah Rukh Khan and social navigation. A lot of turbulent things happened over the decade as well, but I remember 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 close attention to the events that mattered to me and the puzzles that fascinated me. Whether it’s browsing GeoCities fan pages on cricketers, reading Bollywood movie reviews on Rediff, searching for ASL strangers in Yahoo Chatrooms, of course, researching the sex because OMG, the internet had pictures (and I was a teenager!), I could have lived on the World Wide Web forever.

Attention Deficit

Two decades later, it turns out we live on the internet all the time, but I can’t pay attention to anything and I don’t know what to worry about. Every time I turn on my phone – roughly every 15 minutes of standby time – I’m sucked into a vortex of information that gives me both a high and a headache in equal measure.

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

Except I don’t know where the internet ends and my life begins at this point. In the midst of an endless pandemic, relentless inflation, unforgiving political climate and now, pointless war, social media is often the cure for my unrelenting anxiety and unending sadness – until that they are the cause. It’s my escape from our horrible reality, but also a solution. I scroll to remember until I scroll to forget.

Life as we made it

Today, the internet is this toxic relationship that each of us tries to navigate. Staying there can be terrible for our mental health, but is staying away really an option? Whether we like it or not, the internet is life now; it’s as real a world as offline because we made it collectively. And, just as there was a time when we used to “connect” to find a way out of the mundane, we must disconnect now to find a way back into it. Because by trying to care about everything all the time, we risk not caring about anything at all.

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

That Feeling When is a bi-monthly column that offers relevant insight into mental health and emotional well-being.

From HT Brunch, April 9, 2022

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