I read this article today from Paul Miller, who you may recall was the dude who went off the Internet for a year and got paid to tell the story of his experience. I remember reading (on the Internet) that he was going to do it, so I was somewhat interested in how it went. I didn’t follow along with his weekly essays, because well, I have a short attention span, I guess.
The basic idea is that it was great in the beginning — he had energy to go do things, lost 15 pounds, read, and actually listened when people talked. Those are all good things. But as he reflected upon the experience, he realized that those were novelty effects of living in a different world. Physical letters were exciting to get in the mailbox until responding to them became just as much of a chore as responding to email. Time wasted playing video games replaced time reading TMZ or Buzzfeed. And then there were the effects that were worse — he ended up socializing less, he talked to his friends much less frequently and sometimes not at all, and his niece who used to Skype with him thought he didn’t want to talk to her anymore.
And that reminds me of a quote by Alan Kay that my husband uses all the time:
“Technology is only technology to those who were born before it.”
To his niece, without the Internet in his life, her uncle just simply didn’t want to talk to her. To her, the Internet was no different than talking on the phone. To choose not to participate was shunning social interaction in general. (And my bet would be that if I told the children I were going to undertake a similar year off, they would look at me with confused glances and ask why. Did anyone ever say that the telephone was too much of a distraction and decide they were going to live without it? Perhaps. With some historical reflection, would that be dumb? Yes.)
I have to admit that I thought he would end the experiment with grand pronouncements about how the Internet is great for some things, but detracts from our real, “meat space” lives in countless other ways. I thought he’d say those people who announce they are going off Facebook have the right idea. I thought he’d say we were all wasting our time. He didn’t. And he didn’t because the Internet is social interaction. It is us. And while it has disrupted the way we do nearly everything, the problems it creates aren’t necessarily new ones. It used to be when I got bored during a dinner conversation, my only choice was to daydream. With my iPhone, that’s not true anymore, but it doesn’t mean I’m paying any more or less attention.
And the whole thing got me thinking as I was chatting (on the Internet) with my husband and we both easily admitted that the Internet has really given us everything. For my husband, it’s a career. For me, it has allowed me to write and read multiple newspapers every day (not just my one hometown view on the world) and pretend I’m a photographer and involve myself in politics in a way I, as a social introvert, probably would never have done without it. If I were writing this essay and sending it off to Women’s Day or some such other literary POS (sorry), they’d kindly send me a letter and say no thanks. And I’d be sad and after a while I would give up and turn my attention elsewhere. Or nowhere.
(And I realize I am not a professional writer. I don’t pretend to be, nor do I expect to write the next great novel. But does that make my words any less worthy of being written? In the end, everything I post on Facebook or Twitter or write here is for me. Have we forgotten that the term blog originated as “web log?” This web log is the journal of my life. If what I post here makes someone happy, or laugh, or cook, or feel supported, that is fantastic. But in the end it is a way to chronicle *my* life. And just like my real life, if you don’t like what I have to say, move the fuck on.)
Do I waste time here and elsewhere on the web? Yep. Did I used to waste time playing Solitaire on the computer (or with actual cards!)? Yep. Do Pinterest or Facebook make me feel bad sometimes that I am not crafty, or too fat, or don’t run enough, or not pretty enough, or don’t do enough fun vacations with my kids? Yep. Would I feel that way without Pinterest and Facebook? Yep.
When I was chatting (on the Internet) with my husband, I said that without it, I’d probably be sitting around in mom jeans. At first, he said “No way.” After a few minutes of reflection, he changed his mind and said “But actually without e-commerce you wouldn’t be able to shop for anything outside of our little town, so maybe you would be wearing mom jeans.”
So, Internet, thank you for saving me from mom jeans and letting me think I can be anything or know anything or talk to anyone. I, for one, am not going to think bad thoughts about you anymore. Or IM them, or text them, or blog them, or tweet them, or tumble them. I promise.