Monday, June 08, 2009

Lingering online

The sky was overcast today, the clouds like a wet, gray cloth waiting to be wrung out on our heads. It was also cold and unnecessarily so; one can accept a certain amount of rain in early summer, and even welcome it. But the trade off should be that it's warm outside.

Nevertheless, I took a walk to the store and the Canada Post box, daring the rains to come. (Not everyone can be so courageous!) I was restless for most of the morning, making it difficult to stick to the travel narratives I'm reading. There comes a point in which everything you're studying feels like common knowledge because you're so familiar with it. Will I really need to tell the reader about the Elgin marbles? Unfortunately, you can't assume that anything is common knowledge anymore.

I was also restless, admittedly, because I avoided today my inveterate habit of logging on to see what was happening in the "world", or at least what's new in the online gossip network. I read the usual websites daily much like my grandfather read the morning paper. The only difference being that these daily papers update are replenished throughout the day, and there's no end to this paper.

This I think is the first problem I have with the Internet: it has no endpoint. Logging on to check email leads to visits to the usual sites and back and forth, trying to find some logical point to stop. Even if I only spend an hour online, it was more than I had planned.

The second problem I have is that I simply have to change a habit. This is doubly hard: first in that I have to learn to do something new, and secondly in that I have to remove the stability of the old habit from my life. A habit provides one with regularity and the sense that things are unchanging. Therefore, a habit is the performance of stability. Habits give the sense that time has stopped somehow, a relief for humans, who are stuck with an expiration date that is always approaching.

I don't believe logging on is the problem- it's the logging off. An alcoholic friend often jokes that her problem isn't with drinking; it's with stopping once she's drinking. I quite like the Internet for about thirty minutes per day. The problem- and I think this is quite common- is that I linger too long online. I'm now training myself to stick to the thirty minutes.

Also, having a finite lifespan, and currently reading Proust's classic novel of a life spent in idle pursuits, I'm a bit worried about spending my youth on Youtube. In an interesting article (online natch), Benjamin Kunkel writes: "I can't claim that my life is any richer since I got a high-speed internet connection" My neither. A bit more crowded, rushed, and therefore making me less patient; but no richer.

It's not poorer either. At least, I hope not. But, remembering my life before the net, I recall often being bored and coming up with creative ways to pass the time. I'd wander through places I'd never been, write stories, start conversations with strangers. Now, I log on. I think I might like to be bored again.


clairev said...

one good thing came from the internet...

actually two!

Holly said...

When our cat was diagnosed with diabetes, I found the internet to be a fountain of helpful information. Of course, being the internet, that information had to be verified, and it took an ENORMOUS amount of time to research in this way.

However, I have no regrets about the time spent--vets seem to be at least 10 years behind in their knowledge of feline diabetes, and the available published lay literature possibly further.

As a result of this, I got involved in an online Feline Diabetes forum. The FD forum is all volunteer run. Because they gave me a lot of help (and still do), I've been volunteering time there for the last year--answering questions, helping newly diagnosed folks get going, etc.

Although it is rewarding to feel like I'm helping people, it has given me a profound desire to avoid that site. I still like to read the internet, but my patience with it is really limited. Just as we could rummage the internet endlessly for interesting tidbits, everyone else can, too. And all that content has to come from somewhere. From someONE.

Like you, I check in with my "newspapers" and then I move on to other stuff. I still volunteer time & experience on the FD forum, but... I'm sick of it. I'm actually glad when the site is down. It's draining, because there is no end to the number of people who want help with their FD kitties. And it makes me want to spend less and less time on other internet things. This is essentially THE reason that I've been scarce here, and in my own blogs.

Would I feel that way if I were helping people in person? The lack of "down time" on the internet certainly ratchets up the demand for content. Does the internet somehow take more than it gives, even though it appears to be an inexhaustible Source? Will there be a backlash movement, like the Slow Food thing, or the anti-suburbia thing, or any other pendulum swing, where people are motivated to get their community in person instead of on the internet? (is there already such a thing? I think you might be on it already!)

Rufus said...

Claire: for some reason, I don't think of you as coming from the Internet- just more really good luck or maybe fate. But, of course, there's really not much chance I'd have wound up in Canada otherwise. As for Lola, the jury's still out!

Holly: I'm expecting a backlash any day now, actually. I don't know if I'm part of it- I'm becoming more of a moderate than anti-net. Mostly, I'm just not logging on until evening, and then for shorter periods of time.

But I definitely know a lot of people who are growing weary of the daily Internet grind. I will admit that there have been periods of time in which I used this site like a broken walkie-talkie: transmitting stuff, but not reading anything else on the net.

I did see an interview with writer Hakim Bey on French television last year in which they asked him if he was online and his response was flatly 'No' because he thinks the net is deeply counter-revolutionary and that the next big cultural revolution will be people abandoning it.

Maybe it'll be like the 70s 'back to the land' movement... Back to tangible physical space!