That Feeling When by Nikhil Taneja: The Internet – A Toxic Love Story

I grew up in the 1990s, a decade when Sachin Tendulkar, Shah Rukh Khan and social browsing emerged. The decade also saw a lot of turbulent events, but I remember when the internet first happened to me, in the mid 1990s, everything else didn’t matter anymore, because all of a sudden everything mattered.

On the Internet, web pages that took light years to load allowed me to give individual attention to the events I cared about and the riddles that fascinated me. From scrolling through the GeoCities fan pages about cricketers, to reading Bollywood movie reviews on Rediff, to ASL-ing random strangers in Yahoo Chatrooms, to, of course, looking for sex because OMG, the internet had pictures (and I was a teenager! ), I could have lived on the World Wide Web forever.

The attention gap

Two decades later, it turns out that 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 boot up my phone — basically every 15 minutes I’m awake — I’m sucked into a vortex of information that gives me both highs and headaches.

I’m going from watching stories of my friends living their best lives to waiting! a celebrity I love died of OMG a cute puppy, of what?! there is a new virus strain, for this meme i am so lol, 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’m not sure where the internet ends and my life begins at this point. In the midst of a never-ending pandemic, incessant inflation, a brutal political climate and now, an unnecessary war, social media is often the cure for my unrelenting fear and this endless grief – until it causes it. It is my escape from our horrible reality, but also a solution to it. I scroll to remember until I scroll to forget.

Life as we made it

The internet today is that toxic relationship that each of us tries to navigate. Staying in it can be bad for our mental health, but is staying away really an option anymore? Like it or not, the internet is now life; it’s a world that’s just as real as the offline one because we collectively made it that way. And just as there was a time when we “signed in” to find a way out of the mundane, now we have to log out to find a way back. Because if we try to care about everything all the time, we run the risk of caring about nothing at all.

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

That Feeling When is a biweekly column that offers a recognizable look at mental health and emotional well-being.

From HT Brunch, April 9, 2022

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