Saturday, May 8, 2010

"What Might We Be Accomplishing If We Weren't Tethered to the Net?"

Writing a book, maybe? Watching television? Cleaning? Exercising? Not being a total loser?

Everyone loves the Internet, but I'm convinced some people love it more than others (I firmly belong in the latter category). And there are many of us in said category that wonder what we would do with all that extra time if we didn't spend it conversing with others, looking up random shit, or watching YouTube videos. The Internet is one of the greatest timesucks ever invented, and all those other things fall into it: chat services, Twitter, Facebook, email, RSS feeds....

To quote technologist Nicholas Carr:
[T]he Web is also an enormous global timesink, sucking up massive amounts of time that might have gone into more productive, thoughtful, and fulfilling activities. It's difficult to measure the cost of this wasted time, because it's impossible to know what people might have done if they weren't surfing and tweeting and youtubing and huluing and foursquaring and emailing and IMing and googling and etc. The Web often gives us the illusion of having an incredibly diverse set of pursuits when it's really narrowing the scope of our thoughts and activities. There is still a whole lot more that people can do offline than online - something that's easy to forget as we peer into our screens all day. (my emphasis)
That's seen in the discussion of the polarization of our country and our media, how everyone is worried that we siphon ourselves off into our own bubbles. StumbleUpon can tell us our interests, further refined on sites like Amazon and Pandora, all with the universal "like" button. The Internet is, like so many things, a blessing and a curse, a way to connect and a way to disconnect. It's up to the user to define the experience.


John said...

Through my participation in Digital Detox Week I learned a great deal about how much time I waste on the internet (and how much I miss it when I can't access it.) I thought for certain that I would be woefully behind on current events in my friends' lives after a week without Facebook and Twitter, but it only took me about an hour to catch up on both. Much of the internet seems important as we're accessing it because it's so very immediate, but precious little of it actually affects our lives.

I found that, when I wasn't able to spend time on the internet (or playing video games or watching TV), my activities typically included:
1) Household chores.
2) Reading comics/books/newspapers and/or listening to music.
3) Writing down my experiences.
4) Finding any excuse to be outside during nice weather.
5) Actually trying to take an interest in my future and improve my life overall. Sadly, I didn't do enough of this one(as much of it required use of the internet to pursue) but I did gain some potentially valuable insight. And while I wouldn't recommend going completely cold turkey from the internet for most people in my peer group, I would say that putting a limit on how much time (and WHICH time) one spends on it could really help one take back one's life. As for the "not being a total loser" part, though? Your mileage may vary.

MediaMaven said...


I tend to institute my own Digital Detox periods (or AIM/Facebook free zones), and it's always been an interesting experience. I read a lot less books now, and it's something I always want to reverse. The Internet is a form of distraction, obviously, and I would benefit wholeheartedly if I weaned myself off of its powerful grip and spent more time doing, well, all of those items you listed, but especially #3 and #5.

My dad said last week that he wished the internet closed shop at 12:30, so that everyone would go to sleep.

Ian said...

There's a difference between the creators and the consumers out there. The consumers sit in front of the internet and just vegetate, content to absorb whatever YouTube clip or Facebook group like plants sucking up water, without producing a damn thing, but is this really a current phenomenon? If it's YouTube now, it was television before. If it's farmville now, it used to be poker. This isn't a phenomenon of our generation. People have been wasting time since time's beginning.

The creators are the ones that matter. They're the ones that code Facebook applications and that make YouTube videos. Musicians and Film Makers are finding it cheaper than ever to create and distribute their art. Have ever been to It's a website for computer art and it's a fantastic resource for digital artists to get tips, feedback, and sometimes even compensation for their work, on a scale never before possible. These are the people you watch, people who use the internet as a tool rather than a toy.

Getting off the internet once in a while is a good thing, and no one should be tethered to their computer. But was everybody before the digital age really a rennasaince man who spent his time alternating between reading joyce and scaling the alps? The ratio of creators and consumers is the same. People don't waste time more, they just waste it in a different way?