Saturday, July 03, 2010

Quitting the Internet: liberating or being left behind?

Every now and then someone decides that living with the Internet, some form of it like Facebook, or a cell phone is the path to some form of relaxation or putative enlightenment. They'll post that message on the Internet with some sort of satisfaction, usually indicating that they're above puerile pursuits such as the Internet or mobile telephony.

These putative purists then point to the purity of other forms of communication, which are really just older versions of the same technology. For example, you might take a sabbatical from Facebook and demand instead that everyone who wants to talk to you emails you. Or, you get rid of the Internet altogether and demand that everyone calls you. Or, you get rid of your cell phone and get a landline, insisting that everyone who wants to talk to you must call your landline.

It's interesting that Facebook and instant messaging have turned email and phone calls into more "pure" forms of conversation. A real purist would eschew email and phone conversations in favour of face-to-face meetings (that we have to specify this sort of meeting is, however, probably indicative of a problem). Or, worse yet, they might demand that friends, well-wishers and acquaintances post letters, a well-written letter being something of a lost art.

Those who stop watching TV probably still watch the products of TV online and if they don't, I doubt that they've resorted to radio dramas and books. If they've resorted to books, why enjoy the sterile, lifeless mass-produced books that have come in vogue over the last half millennium? Why not partake of that great tradition of the human experience, the hand-copied and hand-produced book? For centuries, this was the only way we could ever read a book. Visiting a library with a notebook and fountain pen to copy out the works of Homer or Seneca is a time-honoured tradition that leaves in dust the mere 80-year tradition of watching TV.

For those who have some sort of unhealthy attachment to technology (you might tweet about a firing squad execution), maybe it makes sense to take a dramatic step and refrain from using electronics for a weekend, or a week or two. But for most of the rest of us, unless it simply doesn't interest you, to force yourself away from technology is really not much better than tweeting your whereabouts via Foursquare every hour. It is basically screaming, "look at me! I'm different than you and I'm following a trend that you don't follow yet!"

Our relationship with modernity is bizarre. We tend to embrace it without much questioning for the most part, until it comes to communication. Cars, airplanes and MP3 players don't cause many emotional issues, but we feel a guilt, real or otherwise, for using Facebook. Like many other forms of anxiety, this is probably the product of how we think others see us rather than how others actually see us. There are many things we don't do only for the reason of how it would like if someone were watching.

1 comment:

André said...

I don't know if that's true. I've quit the internet a few times, and Lisa and I lived without it (pretty noiselessly, I think) our first year of marriage. At least, it wasn't hooked up in our home.

I think the internet can be addictive, and I've noticed that I don't think as clearly the more I engage with it. That's not a phenomenon exclusive to the internet, and I can get that way with radio or television (moreso television), but obviously the internet has the largest amount of easily accessible information, and the fact that it's used for work, school (I have a course coming up that has 100% of the readings online), and socializing definitely makes it the most seductive.

Announcing that you're going to quit the internet could be a result of wanting others to see you as the kind of person that would do that, or it's just a reflection of how much communicating we do online. I know people who regularly send e-mails cancelling or changing plans stupidly near to the proposed date, even if they know my phone number. I don't think that legitimately improves communication. If I can be reached directly, why communicate through a console?