The internet is making me stupid. Used to be when someone asked me what year M*A*S*H went off the air, I would have to sit down and think about it. I’m pretty sure I was in high school. Then again I hadn’t had a date, so maybe junior high. 87? 88? (83, FYI; I was way off) If I couldn’t come up with what movie I’d first seen the bad cop from Strange Days, it would drive me crazy for a few hours until I gave up. Later, I’d wake from a sound sleep and realize he played Thor in Adventures in Babysitting.
Now instead of subconscious churning and shaking my memory, I have Google.
I must admit, I love being able to look up word definitions online. The fallacy of this comes when you read someone with a vocabulary like Lionel Shriver, who plays with tenses and usages in a way which confounds easy answers, or David Foster Wallace, whose use of antiquated terms turn “search engine” into “research project.” Still, I love it. I love reading articles online and being able to click on countries, people, and historical events I don’t know.
It’s the Information Superhighway, after all. Greeks could recite the Iliad from memory. Mohawks kept the whole history of their people alive in stories. Then we started writing stuff down, and we didn’t need to memorize everything. Memory will evolve even further. Centuries from now, it will be the same information, just stored somewhere else. Hopefully the extra room will increase our emotional capacity; our love, compassion, and empathy.
The internet is killing neighborhoods. We let our neighbors go jobless, starving our local businesses (and the suppliers those local businesses use) by sending our money thousands of miles away for a deep discount.
But that’s just an extension of the phenomenon described in James Howard Kunstler's Geography of Nowhere, a Saming of America. Do something about it or don’t.
My real concern is how the internet destroys connections. When Robert Putnam chronicled America’s growing culture of isolation in the excellent Bowling Alone, the internet was a glimmer of what it is today. The internet is gasoline on this fire.
Much has been made about how my generation is the first not to have it better than our parents. Is this really a mystery? Historically, the only benefits accrued by the working class resulted when a group of folks got together and forced a few concessions from the fat cats paying the bills. My generation has flabby fellowship muscles.
A friend recently sent a message on Facebook saying I wouldn’t be seeing him online for a while. He felt his virtual presence was eroding his real-life connections with people. I knew exactly what he meant. When we’re lonely, feeling like we’re missing intimacy with our friends, more and more of us turn to the internet.
Thinking about my friend’s decision, I realized I started Facebooking because all of my social engagements stemmed from my ex’s account. I knew my marriage was ending and didn’t want to miss anything fun.
I started Sweet with Fall and Fish and TweetwFallnFish because publishers consider your “platform” before they publish you. To get a stranger to purchase your book, virtual networking is a must.
It’s been shocking to watch this phenomenon work, by the way. When strangers tell me they enjoy my writing, I have to suppress my natural inclination to respond with, "But I'm not related to you."
It’s all intention, I suppose. You can use a bathtub filled with water to bathe or to drown a child. Neither scenario makes the water evil.
I just don't want the internet to drown me, is all.