Caught in the Web

I recently came across this paper about the Internet that I wrote during my second semester of college. Enjoy!

collage of many computer-related pictures and terms
Caught in the Web cover collage

For many, the Internet no longer exists as a pastime. Its presence has ceased to be a venue for occasional research and frolic. Online services have succeeded in capturing the minds and attentions of a new group of computer user, driving them to the edge. Yet, this phenomenon remains to the ignorant, unknowing, computer-illiterate majority a farce. To much of society, the net junkie is just a low-life computer geek. I argue that the extend of one’s computer knowledge no longer determines who could and does fall prey to the “siren song of the browser” (Dern 93) as the net is an addiction. Addiction being a medical term, I reason for the acceptance of netaholics as suffers of a serious, potentially life-destroying disorder.

The idea of Internet addiction did begin as a joke by New York psychiatrist Ivan Goldberg who posted an electronic message with a list of mock symptoms including involuntary, typing movements of the fingers, psychomotor agitation, anxiety and withdrawal at removal from the net for an extenuated period of time (Goldberg). However, many people responded that they do in fact exhibit these symptoms. Goldberg claims many people use the net because of a lack of social skills and especially to avoid problems in their lives (Garrison 20).

And hence, the addition rears its ugly head. As with any substance abuse problems or addictions, it is used to escape the troubles of the here and now. I spend nearly 99% of my time on the next as an escape from reality as do many of the friends I have met online. For hours on end, we stare at our monitors like many dead fish, absorbed in a fantasy role-playing game (RPG), DragonRealms. With the office door closed and our fingers clicking away at the keyboard, why bother to worry about fighting with our parents, our jobs or school work? We can become who we want to be; at least for the few hours we spend together in the evenings. And truth of the matter, I think we all know more people online than we do in real life! It is so much easier to speak with people when you do not have to look them in the eye or be yourself.

Much like alcohol or drugs, once one gets hooked, one needs more and more to find satisfaction. When most people first start using the Internet, also deemed one’s “newbie days,” initially they spend a long time trying to see everything at once. For most, this fascination wears off when they discover the net is either not for them or they become frustrated. For others, like myself, our time on the next increases because a three-hour hit is no longer enough for us to get a fix. Over the months, I’ve found myself drifting from signing on maybe an hour at a time every couple of days to spending an average of six or more hours daily at my terminal. The web is no longer a toy to us, but a place. As the founder of the Internet Addiction Association (IAA) states, “To the average non-internet user, ‘Cyberspace’ is nothing more than a mass of unorganized data, but to Netaholics, like myself, Cyberspace is viewed as a second home” (IAA). We can’t live without it because we live in it.

But all of this is not enough to deem excessive Internet use an addiction. I mean, plenty of people spend extensive time reading, bowling and watching soap operas. According to Viktor Brenner, a doctoral candidate of psychology at SUNYBuffalo, “Time spent in and of itself is not an indicator. It’s when spending that time becomes so engrossing that other things are ignored—then there’s a problem” (Pappas 28). Corporations face the problem every day of employees who spend more time surfing the net for their own enjoyment than working. Students spend study time hopping from web page to web page. Families become neglected and responsibilities ignored. This is when it all truly becomes an addiction, when the net controls your time and not you. The advent of personal Internet accounts that are unrelated to employment or school further enable those with enough stamina to spend hours and even days online, sometimes disconnecting barely enough to eat or sleep (Dern 94). I’ve lost nearly eight pounds as I have switched my sustenance from food to feeding off the net, and my parents believe the keyboard to be a prosthetic limb. (What do they look like again?)

photo of a guy in front of a computer monitor showing a graph of what employees are spending their time doing on the web. Number one is pornography.
What are employees doing on the web?

All in all, anyone can fall victim to the seductive time sinks of the net. Many people just get distracted and do not know when to stop. I believe it has almost nothing to do with whether one is a webmaster or a newbie because the net controls you psychologically. Brenner recently conducted a study based on a questionnaire he posted on the web. Out of 200 usable responses he reports, “The skewed distribution of scores supports the existence of a subgroup…whose Internet usage caused them more deficits in role functioning than the norm” (Dern 96). In other words, we do exist! I have heard so many sob stories from my cyberpals from those who cannot pay the rent this month because they have missed too much work due to extended net time to others who will simply not work or go to school because they cannot pull themselves away. Many of the people with whom I speak over the net are at work and not working. Statistical evidence from Brenner’s study includes that 30 percent of respondents have tried to cut down on their usage but have sorely failed (been there, done that), while 12 percent said virtually all the people they consider friends are online (“Whatever” 25).

I have yet to end up at the stage where I am running from phone booth to phone booth, searching for a place to plug in my laptop and sign-on because I have been evicted and lost my job. But please, they are out there, and they need help. Instead of discarding people with Internet Addiction Disorder, recognize that they need something to pull them away. When my parents or friends nag me about being on the net for hours and hours, that they never see me anymore, do you think that makes me want to come out and sign-off?! No. This is my escape, and frankly, I do not want to get off. WE need support groups for netaholics, not harsh words. We stay in our little electronic world of silicon, pixelated faces and flashing text voices because this is our safety zone. The world is cold and harsh, especially when all we get is hell because most people just don’t understand. Hug a netaholic; do not push one away because the Internet and the thought of the whole world going to computers scares you out of your wits. We’re scared too, but we’re ready.

Works Cited

Dern, Daniel P. “Just one more Click…” Computer World 8 Jul. 1996: 30(28) :93-96.

Garrison, Jayne, Patricia Long. “Getting off the Superhighway.” Health Oct. 1995: 9(6) :20-22.

Goldberg, Ivan. Internet Addiction Disorder. Online. Dialog.

Internet Addiction Association. Online. Dialog. 3 Mar. 1996.

Pappas, Charles. “Hooked on the Net.” Home Office Computing Jun. 1996: 14(6): 28.

“Whatever Happened to Face-to-Face Interface?” Men’s Fitness Sep. 1996: 25.

Postcard Resistance

A year ago, I started a side project called Postcard Resistance in response to calls for writing the President and members of Congress to protest several issues. The premise is simple:

All you need are a printer, paper, pen and postage to make a difference.

The site provides several PDF templates anyone can download and print to create four postcards per 8.5″ x 11″ piece of cardstock. The front contains artwork about an issue or general premise, e.g. RESIST.

image of a red fist above the word resist in black
Postcard front – RESIST

On the backs, I created form fields where people can easily type up a message and add the name and address of recipients. This allows mass printing of ready-made postcards waiting for a stamp.

screen shot of the back of a postcard with editable fields for a message and a recipient's name and address
Postcard back

My goal was to spin up a simple, responsive site quickly. I decided that instead of creating something from scratch, I would use a template. W3 Schools provides a variety of templates for free. I began with the Start Page Template and modified it with code from another templates to display the postcard fronts in a photo gallery array.

screenshot of the Postcard Resistance site showing 6 sample postcard fronts
Postcard Resistance website

There’s always some code bloat with a template but I was pleased with how efficient the CSS is and the ease with which using a grid-based layout worked. I’m looking at using something similar to update my portfolio site.

The ongoing creative outlet of making new postcards is my favorite part of the project. Most are my ideas but a few were adopted from images on the web and converted from JPGs to vectors for the PDFs. Upcoming ideas include

  • Net Neutrality
  • Registering to vote
  • Retirement cards for MoCs facing reelection in 2018

Podcasts App Changes in iOS11

I’ve written about my frustrations with the iOS Podcasts app on the iPhone before. With iOS11, Apple decided to change how the interface works in a major way (again). I had adapted to the iOS9 UI, easily adding items to the “Up Next” queue and figuring out that I could reorder and delete episodes.

Queue Management

What I want from a podcast app is to be able to create a queue of episodes that I can manage by adding/removing/reordering with ease.

screenshot of the podcasts app player screen
Play episode screen

As with the previous version of the app, you tap the menu icon in the lower right to bring up play options.

Episode menu screen
Screenshot of menu options for an episode

The options under this menu have changed. No more history and no way to see the contents of the queue. You can choose to play the current episode next with the “Play Next” option or add it into the black hole queue with “Play Later”.

screenshot of the added to queue notification for a podcast episode
Added to queue notification

I say black hole because I cannot find the queue.

It’s hard to use this app if I can’t manage which episodes are playing. I’ve already had times where I added an episode twice or wanted to play a different episode before another one I just added to the queue. I’m stumped and upset.

Library

Some readers may have noticed there is a new option in that menu called “Add to Library”. I was really hoping the library was the queue. Instead it appears to replace the “My Podcasts” icon from the previous app version. Best I can tell, this is a list of the latest episodes the podcast thinks you would be interested in.

screenshot of the Library where you can sort through episodes
Library screen

It is useful for navigating podcast feeds and episodes with the option to download to your device.

Listen Now

This was my last hope. I really thought this would be a list I could curate, but again, disappointment.

screenshot of the Listen Now screen which lists the latest podcast episodes
Listen Now screen

What we see is another list of latest episodes which I think excludes ones you’ve listened to already. So where is the queue? I guess it’s time to search for the answer. The first hit had a great response:

The fact that we have to Google how iOS screen design works shows how iOS screen design doesn’t work any more. I hate iOS 11.

The answer for how to view the queue–swipe up on the screen where the current episode is playing–isn’t working for me. I guess I’ll keep trying but seriously, I don’t understand why Apple obfuscates functionality with obscure gestures.

Update: So if you have episodes in the queue, you can scroll to the bottom of the currently playing episode screen to see what’s “Up Next”. However, if you have nothing in the queue, the section simply isn’t there.

screenshot of the Up Next queue at the bottom of the player screen
Up Next list

My design suggestions would be to make the queue more obvious and to call it a queue. I’d love to see a “Queue” icon at the bottom of the app. Calling it “Up Next” is confusing.