Self portrait in an Internet Cafe.
Whenever I feel down I really should meditate or exercise, but instead I often try to lose my self in the net. This takes a predictable form, multiple windows, reading everything on Metafilter, waiting for some email to CHANGE MY LIFE, obsessively seeking out Internet video. It’s all very unsatisfying, but yet the most superficially satisfying thing to do. Turns out it may not just be me.
The use of P2P sharing–Bittorrent and similar file exchange programs–was a correlative indicator of depression, as was the practice of checking email more often. Another big indicator was exhibiting high amounts of what’s called “flow duration entropy”–otherwise known as multitasking–switching between disparate apps quickly. The study’s authors make no claims that these behaviors cause depression. Rather, P2P downloads and hyper multitasking are just potentially reliable symptoms of it, like the digital version of lethargy and weight gain. Their next step is to develop software to monitor web usage that could alert someone if they were exhibiting depressed behaviors online–maybe even alert a counselor in the process, too. (Diagnosing Depression, By Watching How You Surf The Web)
It’s very interesting, not just that there is a particular Internet usage style associated with depression (or just feeling bummed) but that this pattern could be used therapeutically. I always thought that my computer should simply not let me login unless I meditated in the morning, and then lock me out in the evening until I exercised. One could call this a sort of Gamification Of Life, coding in cues to better living that our ad hoc technological environment doesn’t naturally provide.