On Internet Culture and Technological Addiction

Song of the moment: Do You Wanna Date My Avatar? the cast of ‘The Guild’

While sitting with Sean while he night recep’ed the other night, he commented on how he really wants the new Droid phone (or something similar) now that his Blackberry is dying. I shrugged and said I had no use for a phone that constantly connected me to the internet. Sean was aghast. He kept trying to convince me I was wrong, that I would love one. He pointed out that I would be able to check Facebook all the time, that I could Tweet from anywhere, that I would always be able to look something up on Wiki. I retorted with a comment about how I always have my laptop on me, so it’s really not an issue.

Then I realized just how sad it was that our society feels the need to constantly be ‘connected’ to this realm called the internet.

I remember the days before the internet was a part of my life. The days when the only games I played on the computer were The Oregon Trail and the JumpStart games. When I had to look things up in encyclopedias, when the library was the only source of reference/research material at my disposal. This trend continued even after I was introduced to the internet, because the dreaded web took some time to sink it’s devilish claws into me.

The first time I got on the internet, I was in the first grade. We had to look up this short flash video of a horse trotting, cantering, and galloping. I have absolutely no idea why we needed to see this video, but I distinctly remember that as the first time I was online (it was also the first time I was allowed back on a computer in the library after I accidentally printed the entire card catalogue [fuck off, WordPress, I use the -ue ending]… I used to be very computer illiterate).

But as I got older, it became apparent that the information and entertainment available in Greybull, Wyoming were not sufficiently satisfying for me. I was forced to branch out, and that required becoming intimate with the internet. In middle school, I used it to order books from other libraries in the state. I got my first email account. I also had a brief, hilarious love affair with the AskJeeves message boards- how my friends and I didn’t get banned remains a mystery.

Then high school rolled around. The time of college preparation, learning how to write a research paper… you know, real work. This was the time of my great internet growth. I went from using it for the most basic things to learning the real ins and outs of the system. I learned exactly how to find what I need when creating search terms. I learned how to determine quality webpages from crap ones. I even designed my own webpage at one point (it wasn’t a good one).

This was also my first real jaunt into the world of social networking online. I got a MySpace and a LiveJournal account. I finally caved to the pressure of MSN Messenger. I started downloading music. And all of this on the world’s shittiest dial-up connection.

I think the real turning point for me, however, was the day before I left for college. I was up late into the night (as per usual), mucking about online (as per usual). Finally, out of sheer boredom, I took Arthur’s advice and started a Facebook account (though I had no idea what it was or why I needed something outside of MySpace). Yes, it was Facebook that pushed me over the edge from “internet user” to “internet addict.”

The signs weren’t obvious at first. My new college friends all added me as friends on Facebook. I would check it once or twice a day. I finally put up profile information. Simple things. Facebook was not an important part of my life- I saw these people every day.

But soon, I started to spend more and more time on the site. I added pictures as I took them (albums that I’ve since removed, because I give my profile a face lift about once every 4 months), I wrote on walls when I was home for break. I used it to track birthdays and events. It became more and more a part of my life. The years rolled by, and the additional apps came out. We started sending gifts online, taking quizzes, drawing pictures. Status updates, when freed of the restrictive “is,” became ways to share your thoughts/emotions/what-have-you with the world, even when you were in class.

It’s really no surprise that I started using Twitter after becoming royally hooked on Facebook. Facebook is the gateway drug. Because of it, I started Tweeting, I got an AIM address, I started posting my poetry online, I started blogging again, I learned to torrent, I started playing WoW, and I found StumbleUpon- simply because Facebook taught me to immerse myself in the culture of the internet community. It opened my eyes to all the internet truly had to offer, both good and bad.

Some days, I wish they’d remain shut. There are moments when I look at what I’ve let myself become- what we’ve all let ourselves become- and I mourn for times past. We’ve become a world of personal disconnect. Oh yes, we can talk to each other online. I can chat with people on AIM, Tweet them things, send them emails or Facebook messages, Skype with them… the list goes on and on. Yet, none of these interactions are truly personal interactions. There’s this great digital divide between me and the other person. Without body language, we lose 90% of the conversation. We’re living on the bread and water equivalent of communication. Even the telephone allows for vocal inflection- something that, when lost online, leads to miscommunication and error.

I’m not saying the internet is all bad. Like any item of power, it is a neutral beast. How you use it determine whether it’s good or evil. I am saying, however, that it is inspiring a society of laziness and dismal sociability. There’s much to be desired in such a world, a world where we are more intimate with a glowing screen than with the people in our lives.

That being said, I’m bitching about all of this online… on my blog. And I’m alternating between writing this, taking notes, and farming leather in WoW. I don’t know the names of anyone in this class. I have made no friends in it. I guess I’m a poster-child for my own disgust.

But, back to the phone Sean was talking about. I don’t want it, not just because I’m afraid of it sealing me even tighter in my internet bubble. No, the real reason is because I can’t support something that allows so many people to Tweet while they poop. There are some things you just shouldn’t do- poop Tweeting is one of them.

Bonus link of the day: Science is, in fact, interesting.

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