A few days ago, on April 2nd, I brought home this computer I am currently tap-tapping on, with all of its astounding MacBook Pro qualities. At the Apple store, I was helped by the one employee in his fifties. He told me that the hard drive of my 2005 macbook was 99.9% finis. After glancing furtively around me, at my generation rapidly typing, entranced in swiping, their inflexible beards growing ever so slowly, I nodded my head carefully. Within two minutes a girl appeared at our elbows, and set my new laptop down between us.
To be honest, while my head was spinning with relief – while I thought, ah, now I can survive the next eight years of my life, writing, sending resumes, and watching the new 15 Arrested Development episodes over and over – it took me forever to open the box at home. I made tea. I read another chapter of Willa Cather’s One Of Ours. I ate dinner, again. In the shower I mused over my contradictory feelings and decided it was time to reconcile them. What a coincidence, too. As it turns out, Tuesday the 2nd marked Reconciliation day…
Today we’re going to finally confront the issues I’ve always had with the Internet, the Information Age. I would like to lessen the weight of my overbearing grudge. Did you not know this of me, who blogs rather faithfully (save the moments my computer dies, or I just don’t feel like it), on a weekly basis? It’s true. I will prove it. I will begin by listing things I have always hated about the Internet. And I will spell it out in all capital letters.
THINGS I HAVE ALWAYS HATED ABOUT THE INTERNET
1. COMMUNICATION: While this is the primary joy of the Internet – that it expands the range of people you can reach in a day to an infinite degree – the quality of these conversations tend to be pretty lame. [But what about TED? You ask. Seriously? Those are well-researched lectures, given by incredibly passionate and charismatic people, who only use the Internet to spread the ideas they develop outside of it.]
The Internet has ruined how we communicate with one another because it’s too easy. It’s too easy to abbreviate, to sum up entire conversations with a ‘Like’ button. And if you think it hasn’t affected how we communicate in person, with one another, you obviously haven’t left your bedroom. Dinners with friends always involve eighty extra Twitter followers, invisibly hanging in on your conversation, interrupting it, or greedily waiting for it to be over. There is also the problem of Facebook friendships replacing the original face-to-face ones. Somehow knowing the children and spouses and major life events of an old college roommate – via their webpage – replaces the necessity to learn these things in person. Somehow we’ve developed an entitlement to this information, while refusing to put the work into maintaining the actual friendship. And I think we know this. I think if we were totally honest with ourselves, we would have to acknowledge that our friend base is not as large as we imagine it to be, that the number of shoulders to cry on when we are “reduced” to that human touch is much smaller than we’d like to admit.
I’m sorry. I’m just kidding. You totes have tons of friends. Really. Just… call them? Once in a while?
2. SQUIRREL: If you are still reading, congratulations! Your attention span hasn’t been completely annihilated by the Information Age. How about now? Now? Between now and…. now, what Wikipedia article did you just look up? What time do you want to meet up with everyone tonight? Where? What is the name of Nicholas Cage’s wife? What kind of Asian is she? Let me know when you find out – the country is on the tip of my tongue, and it’s going to drive me crazy if I don’t figure it out.
I’ll speak for myself. At some point I discovered that I had lost the ability to do one thing for longer than five minutes. I had a pile of unfinished books, all bookmarked at page 2. I would write a sentence before deciding to paint, which led me to doing two loads of laundry. I was disgusted with myself. And then I realized I was processing my daily activities much like I process the Internet. At the end of my days, the feelings of disappointment in myself were magnified by the fact that, the only thing I could remember about the day was the premise of the latest episode of Bob’s Burgers, or the latest condescending Wonka meme.
A few days ago, the New York Times posted this article, reporting that the rise of the ADHD diagnosis, or rather the misuse of its medications, is growing at an alarming rate. A lot factors into this, of course. It is a serious malady that I don’t mean to trivialize. And many, many children do legitimately suffer from it. But if, as an adult, I can verify that my head spins to the beat of constant technological stimulation, how much more for an infant with an iPad, I wonder? If consequently, at six, they display a lack of attention to anything, will Ritalin permanently bring them all back to earth?
I don’t know. Which brings me to my third point.
3. INFORMATION: The Internet gives us the ability to know anything at the touch of a button. But what we learn can easily be guided by what we already believe, because it isn’t difficult to find sympathy for our tears and fears via the Internet. Instead of relying on the educated opinion of the certifiably educated, many of us simply WebMD the hell out of whatever we want. And then we argue with our doctors, or our teachers, or our pottery instructors. We tell them what we know.
The Internet has evolved, my friend. It is no longer (or perhaps it was never ) the source of irrefutable knowledge. Via the Internet, opinion is now, more or less, mistaken for fact, for knowledge. How many times have you come across a brilliant article shining with truth and light, only to scroll down and find a dissenter who provides a link to an equally brilliant, opposing opinion? Have you ever attacked a dissenter, anonymously, or perhaps bookmarked their link instead? And how many times have you taken an opinion, taken from another opinion, and made it your own? I can raise my hands here. I can own that I’ve absorbed the concentrated opinion of someone else, through the most random means (a Facebook link to a Huffington Post article linking to a blog, to the mind of a stranger far removed from me). But why do we go to school anymore, if we can just google our way into understanding? Why can’t we just download our certifications and know everything and be happy? It will save time for us to do other things, like watching every single episode of House of Cards in one night.
Anyway, you are probably thinking I am very bad at reconciling. And, you would be right. I had at least eight more points (4. CREEP FACTOR, 5. JUSTIN BIEBER, 6.TMI….). At this rate, why should I bother reconciling at all, save the fact that the Internet told me it was Reconciliation Day, that this is probably just me taking holidays too far, per usual? This is me. This is me. I miss books. I miss Willa Cather’s old country. I miss my ancient fourth grade teacher, with her strict boundaries and unwavering sense of finality. I miss crafters who specialize in their craft because they have physically practiced it for three-quarters of their life. I miss penmanship. I miss letters. I am afraid for the future of the ailing U.S. Post Office. And maybe I’m afraid for our future in general. Maybe I’m afraid of the day when we all have the Internet programmed directly into our brains, when we can flick through websites by blinking our eyes (maybe I’m afraid of the day we stop blinking altogether). Maybe I already hate the day when I have children, and I have to meet their girlfriend or boyfriend’s avatar on Half-Life (or, by 2033: Premium-Real-Life), before watching their nuptials on youtube.
So how do I absolve this? How do I make peace with something so evidently disturbing to me?
Okay. For one thing, I must admit that my life is doubtlessly richer for having been exposed to the following youtube videos: Double rainbow guy, Denver the guilty dog, and my ultimate fantasy reality, Christian the lion. And then there is the very obvious fact that most of the people I love use the Internet, love the Internet. They make me laugh online as much as they do in person. The Internet is the source of boundless imagination, the home of artists and musicians who I would never hear about, were it not for happenstance and google. I can keep tabs on writers I love, stalk Sufjan Stevens, choose from hundreds of different ceviche recipes, learn how to best water my jasmine plant — and still make time for dad Jay.
In a word, the Internet is amazing. I officially reconcile myself to this. It is efficiently designed to help us talk with one another, can be the means of meeting significant others or lifelong friends. We can learn different languages, technologically inherit different cultures and foods, breed deep insight. Yes. Yes. I just hope we don’t forget, collectively, that we can also learn these things ourselves, in person, through experience. There is a native within all of us, who we must listen to from time to time, who understands how to live and grow things. We mustn’t forget that person! And we also mustn’t forget that there are still billions of people who are not plugged in, who have amazing stories to tell that a search engine can’t find. We have the capacity to find those stories ourselves and listen to them, and we should always be hungry to.
An anticlimactic reconciliation, perhaps. But you see, I’ve been typing on a perfectly beautiful spring day. The sun is calling. Must check on the peapods. I didn’t quite like the way Gigi was eyeing them.
P.S. I love you, friend. Especially in person. Of all the musts I have written, most important is that we must hang soon.