During recent research we conducted on family eating behaviour, a side topic that occasionally emerged was internet usage - and the way it is simultaneously consumed and all consuming for many people. When it was all consuming, a pattern of behavior seemed to emerge.
Step One: Attraction to the endless possibilities of information and knowledge (hmmm…I wonder what else I could learn about XYZ?).
Step Two: The compulsion to collect everything and uncover the ultimate answer (just one more page, just one more article).
Step Three: The effect of an information hangover (wow…that was a huge waste of time).
Here’s a neat little quote from a woman we interviewed, illustrating the process:
“I’m addicted to the internet. If I’m being honest that’s actually a pretty good statement, it consumes most of my time. I don’t run my life around it per se, but my whole life is run around it. I live in front of my computer, which is why I don’t get anything done… Some of it’s good and some of it’s bad. I get mad at myself when I start researching something - and I don’t even know what I’m researching. Sometimes I end up thinking it was a complete waste of my time. For example when I focus on stuff I really don’t need to focus on. Like recently someone I knew was having a fecal blood test; that really got me going! Did I stop at one site? No! It was a complete waste of my time.” - Mother (2008)
In these instances the process of consuming information actually becomes more important than the information itself. For example, how many times do people actually manage to diagnose an illness on WebMD? Rarely? Never? But they keep trying, because the success of this site isn’t based on delivering outcomes; it’s based on delivering possibilities.