I am an addict. I am addicted to facebook, to the blogs I read, to AOL Instant Messenger, to Google. To ESPN and the web-comics I read. I am addicted to the internet. The internet has so permeated my life that it is an extension of who I am, so bound up that to sever that link would be a testament to willpower. But I am not sure I can do it, I am not sure that I want to.
These are off the cuff remarks, ruminations while in a spiffy coffee shop (Mudtruck) in mid-town Manhattan. They stem from a number of sources, including another friend drawing back from Facebook, an upcoming movie about web-life versus real-life, conversations about culture and modernity while walking through Time Square, an article about loneliness and green living–to name just a few.
Life has always been about struggle and competition, whether this took the form of struggle against (and working with) the elements, or people, or nature or yourself, it is a constant struggle. Often the best solution is to work with the object of struggle, but the struggle remains. Further ambition, a goal to struggle towards provides inspiration for living, even if that ambition is (externally) to sit in front of a computer screen all day, it is likely (internally) to accomplish an particular feeling or to become an 80th level druid with the best healing capabilities on the server. Some ambitions are loftier than others. I am simply an observer of the realm of the mind, but not everyone is Alexander or Caesar or Napoleon, and to be honest that is probably a good thing. Nonetheless I am comfortable in saying that everyone has ambitions of one sort or the other, whether they know it or not, and those who do not have given up. That last group will hopefully be given motivation by those who love them, commit suicide or otherwise pass away. Morbid, but true.1
One of the most consistent ambitions people have is to leave a legacy. For some that is pioneering technology, or political office, or literary accomplishment. For others that is teaching people, or having children. This is so much the case that I wonder sometimes if there is something about sentience that pushes us to make a mark on the world, to be noticed.2 In the world of internet this urge appears through web presence. This includes facebook, youtube, google, and yes, blogs. This is not necessarily a bad thing and for many people this is great. I use most of the above and for one purpose or another, though usually to keep in contact with my loved ones who are not immediately available to me. More than anything else this is why I doubt I would be able to pull out at all, much less altogether.3 At the same time the more I use these things the more I feel I am caught in a real life matrix. In general I feel out of touch with so much of what makes modern America just because I don’t watch tv and I like this feeling. In a similar way that I am made uncomfortable by organized religion I am made uncomfortable by American consumer culture. It feels like a natural conspiracy, rather than an organized one, bent pulling a veil over our eyes and getting us to spend money. It is overwhelmingly successful.
Internet, especially these social networking sites provide a platform from which to scream your message. Pictures, thoughts, conversations are all enabled through these networks, foisting on others your life. Incidentally facebook provides a convenient mechanism to simply ignore those aspects you dislike–I ignore a number of games, including farmville, castle age and mafia wars, plus a handful of people. At times, though, this feels like yet another competition, another shoving match for attention. But leaving this mess behind will make me disconnected. Clearly not everyone will disappear for me if I did this, but enough would that I question the decision. This is ever more evident since my use of facebook in and of itself is not a health or societal detriment. I am not chopping down any more trees for its use, or drilling any more gulf oil.4 I am not Super-sizing myself, nor am I driving anywhere to do it. Facebook is a tool of procrastination and one networking. If I can conquer the first, the latter is a positive.
And still I may need to withdraw to drag myself from this matrix.
The day has not yet come where I give up online presence. It may never come. Likewise the day has not yet come where I give up technology and it probably never will. The day that is drawing speedily closer is the one where I give up everything unsustainable, everything corporate. Already I am making an effort to avoid the trappings and excesses–the unnecessary bags, containers, plastic silverware, grease, fast food, etc. I still want a legacy, I want to make my mark, but if mine is the same mark as a billion other people, how is that different from not leaving one at all?
1If you are feeling ambition-less, unmotivated or otherwise need a reason to keep going, please call me and I will give you some. Trust me, I have too many ambitions for my own good.
2Alternately this could be an urge more basic that manifests itself in more dramatic fashion due to sentience. Either way my point stands.
3Not to mention that I suspect my advisor would kill me if I stopped using email. And that Ancient History/Classics professors are notoriously bad with technology–as though the field needs more challenges to its survival in the 21st century.
4No, the trees suffer from my habits of taking notes on paper and hand-writing papers before typing them.
Post Script: The use of the term ‘matrix’ was deliberate and a direct reference to the original movie by the same name. The later movies in the trilogy expanded the allegory presented, but the concept itself is a message about technology and the most basic stages can be seen in the internet world that people voluntarily put themselves into, only to find themselves unable to, or unwilling to pull out of.