My Latest Column

My most recent column with The Star newspaper.

Lose time online

I RECENTLY noticed that I have been spending more and more time on the Internet, involved in activities that have nothing to do with my work. A little online interaction can be educational, entertaining and fulfilling, but something is wrong if you find yourself spending excessive hours with your fingers glued to a keyboard.
If you eat too much, you will gain weight. If you drink too much, you will fall over and make a fool of yourself. And if you’re online too much, the radiation from the thermal globadoon will fry your brain and make you think that you are a fabulous singer worthy of a slot on YouTube, everyone on Facebook really is your friend, and all Americans have perfect teeth.

I usually begin my day by checking my email. If, for some reason, I couldn’t check my messages first thing, I suspect I might begin to feel a little anxious – like a smoker without cigarettes my mind would focus on getting the next fix. Of course, the way technology is advancing these days, the only thing that might prevent me from looking at my email in future is a stint in a nuclear fallout shelter or a spell in a maximum security prison.

After checking my mail, I usually log onto Facebook to see what my family and friends around the world have been up to while I was asleep. One of my nieces, whose laptop, I suspect, has been surgically attached to her abdomen, uploads pictures of her two young sons daily. So I’ll spend at least five minutes looking at shots of them taken from every conceivable angle. Sometimes, I’ll leave an inane comment or press the “Like” button.

Then I will spend a few minutes looking at links recommended by other writers on Facebook – information about recently published books, interviews with authors and articles about the state of the publishing world. Some of these links usually lead to other stories, which in turn lead to yet more stories. If I’m not careful, I can get caught up in a labyrinth of intertwining stories before I’ve even had my morning coffee.

Then there’s the plethora of online newspapers that distract me with their daily headlines. The Internet minutes keep on ticking as I hop from Penang to Kuala Lumpur to London to New York and home again.

The other day, I realised that things were possibly getting out of control when I found myself watching a complete stranger on YouTube lip-synching to a popular song. I stared at the young man goofing around in his bedroom for a few seconds, closed the browser window and assessed my situation.

According to the latest research, the average American spends roughly 13 hours per week online. I’m not any better. Indeed, I suspect I spend about two hours a day on the Internet doing things that are not related to my work.

While I know it’s important to stay in touch with family and friends, I don’t need to know every minute detail of their lives. I don’t need to know what they had for breakfast, what the weather is like outside their bedroom window, or that they’re feeling bored enough to watch a video clip of a cat flushing the toilet, over and over again.

I don’t want the Internet to displace my other interests and limit my social interactions, so I’ve decided to restrict my online activity to half an hour a day. With the time I save over the next two years, I could learn to speak Spanish fluently, write a novel, or develop a six pack.

After two years, I should be in a position to make a video of the experience and post it on YouTube for everyone to see. If it’s successful, I will get an agent to milk my 15 minutes of fame by getting me a spot on an American talk show. I will whiten my teeth so that I fit in, and everyone will love me until the next sensation comes along to distract them. Then I will be cruelly discarded like yesterday’s newspaper.

Of course, there’s a danger that I might not use my time wisely. If I’m reckless, I might just waste it on something else equally as useless as online chatter. Like watching reruns of cookery programs on TV and reading tabloid magazine stories about who has the biggest thighs in Hollywood.

But I must remain optimistic that I will do the right thing.

I wonder what the Spanish word for sit-up is?