I’m at a conference and my accommodations have no Internet and no tv. In fact, there’s only one outlet. When I’m on vacation, I expect to be disconnected, but this is a work-related trip. I expect not only to be able to do work things, but also check in with family and friends via the Internet. I felt a little antsy, I must admit. Even most of my reading material is on either my computer or my Nook, and I couldn’t access either without the Internet. Luckily, I’d brought some non-digital material to read. But, as I drifted off to sleep, I wondered what it might be like to forgo the Internet for a while. I’m not sure I could do it. I could give up aspects of the Internet–Twitter, Facebook, even WoW, I could live without. But I download movies, books, read the news, even watch tv with the help of the Internet.
But maybe I should think more about how I use the Internet. I tend to do so reflexively as its been part of my work now for about 15 years. Here’s an example. I’ve hopped on the Google+ bandwagon, and when I look at it, I don’t think it’s revolutionizing my social network. It’s still a stream of random information from *mostly* random strangers. And most of that is information I don’t really need. One could argue I might need the connections to people, but I’m not sure that’s even true. I’m not trying to sell something or promote myself, though I grant that my school actually likes the publicity, so there’s that. There are people out there I want to stay connected to–former students, former classmates, colleagues in my field. But do I need three different places to keep up with them?
I know this line of thinking is old hat, even for me. But I think this is connected somewhat to my lamentations about summer. It’s all too easy to spend hours on end on the Internet, whether it’s playing a game, watching funny videos, or reading blogs. There’s nothing wrong, of course, with leisure, with just goofing around. But I think I”m starting to agree with some critics who suggest that the Internet weakens our ties, and is generally shallow. It doesn’t have to be, but it lends itself to being that way. Witness the shift from blogs to Facebook and Twitter. Where once people used to post a link and comment on it, now they just post it to Twitter, often without adding anything to it. That can be seen as more efficient. After all, who needs commentary from random people. But that’s what I found interesting, actually. What do “real” people think about this issue? Much of that is gone.
Perhaps the real question is, what do we do with the Internet now? Now that Twitter (and now Google+) are the media of choice. Now that passive forms of entertainment like tv and movies have migrated from a box that sits in the living room to any box with an Internet connection. And now that our data (via sites like Facebook) is out there for any marketer, government agent, or a nefarious person to get to. While some of us have been thinking about this all along, most people have rushed headlong into putting everything out there, into connecting without thinking about what that means, into just getting lost in wires.