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February 2, 2009

Filed under: culture»internet»excession

Time Out

Like a lot of people, I have a hard time leaving well enough alone when it comes to Internet argumentation. And the Internet being what it is, there's a lot of argument out there. Tech forums, political blogs, the extremists who got my e-mail address from Ars and decided to add me to their lunatic press release list... the available incendiary material is endless. And in some way's, that's a good thing: I believe strongly that the Internet's soup of ideas and opinion, debated rationally, can be a great place to learn and explore.

That said, it can also be stressful, and possibly hazardous. I find it way too easy to get into a cycle of comment/refresh/comment, fuming the entire time--and even when I think I've pulled myself away, there's a certain compulsion to check the laptop and keep the cycle going. Indeed, it's probably a good idea that few people read this: I've had the experience of hostile commenters here, and it wasn't worth the stress.

If you have this problem as well--and in my experience, most moderately-opinionated people can fall into this behavior online--it might be helpful to mandate a cooldown period. This weekend, when I found myself starting to obsess a little over a minor point of disagreement, I took a deep breath and then installed BlockSite in Firefox to keep myself away from the site getting me worked up. After a couple of days, I unblocked it--but by that point, I'd gotten some emotional distance. It's not artificial self control, merely assisted.

There are people who believe that the problem with the Web (and, to some extent, the problem with modern life in general) is that it's too fast, too much, and too easy. I don't really agree with that. The way I see it, if technology gives us tools for wreaking havoc in one way or another, it also gives us tools to keep the situation under control. Just because progress makes something possible, it doesn't make it inevitable. Indeed, while it's not always possible to take personal responsibility for the excesses of technology, but this is one of those cases. And since I enjoy the advantages that progress brings, I don't think a little augmented restraint on my part is too much to ask--particularly when it improves my own emotional health as well. Better to have that choice, and not use it, than never to have the choice at all.

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