The Internet has consumed our culture. We are quickly becoming a hive society. Is that good or bad? I think it’s good, but like all good things, I think it comes with some bad aspects. Yesterday I watched the movie Chef, a moving story about a father getting to know his son, but also a lesson in how Twitter works, for both good and bad. I also read “How YouTube and Internet Journalism Destroyed Tom Cruise, Our Last Real Movie Star” in the LA Times, about how Internet gossip can create false impressions in the hive mind.
The Internet is capable of spreading liberal and conservative concepts with equal speed. It is just as effective at teaching the truth as it is as spreading lies. The Internet is equally suited to preach Christianity, Islam, Buddhism and Atheism. Net Neutrality is an ideal in more ways than one. The Internet can be as addictive as a drug, or as productive as any tool.
The internet is tremendous fun, and I could never give it up, but what if I used it much less? Most companies consider the Internet a productivity waster and limit employee access. Now that I’m retired its very easy to just get seduced into following one link after another, just clicking my way through the day. I have fiction writing and programming projects I dream of doing, but instead I’m enticed by endless tidbits of fascinating facts. No wonder George R. R. Martin writes on an ancient DOS machine using WordStar 4.0.
In some ways the Internet, including all the television, movies, music, ebooks, games, comics, news, magazines and audiobooks it delivers, is the ultimate song of the sirens. Instead of owning a dog, I enjoy photos and videos of dogs on the Internet. If I was younger and hornier, I’d probably be spending my time with virtual women. Instead of watching cable TV, I get my shows via the Internet. Instead of listening to music on CDs I have Spotify. Instead of reading magazines I read Zite and News360. When I want to cook something new I watch a how-to on YouTube.
Everyone sees daily tales about Internet abuse, but who actually walks away? Would I work on my novel full time if I canceled U-verse and unplugged my TV? Is the Internet keeping me from being creative, or am I enjoying the Internet while not facing up to the fact that I’m not creative.
Obviously humanity is not going to reject the Internet any more than it’s going to reject fire, farming, writing and science. The Zen of right living is to use any tool wisely. The Internet is like a telescope, it allows us to see further, but do we always need to observe reality at an eyepiece? Most people believe moderation is the key to everything, but I wonder if we don’t get the most from our tools by learning to use them as little as possible.
What inspired this essay was the realization that I was compulsively reading news stories from the Internet because I felt like I was learning so much. The truth is we forget most everything we read. Real learning comes from distillation of facts, not the abundance of facts. It’s better to read one memorable essay than to read a hundred fascinating essays. Strangely the one essay that stuck with me from yesterday is the one about Tom Cruise, and how the Internet tarnished his reputation. And I have to admit that I went from liking Tom Cruise as an actor to avoiding his films because of Internet gossip.
I would be a better, happier, more productive person if I used the Internet less, and maybe elements of this essay have some 12-step properties.
JWH – 5/25/14