Like everyone in the world I have a routine.
Every morning I lumber into work, march the alley to my desk, drop my bag to the floor, drop my ass in the seat and flip open my laptop lid to face a deluge of unwanted emails.
I usually start my day by checking the news. I use Feedly to cull the top tech articles from a multifarious collection of sites. Hackernews and Ars Technica are two of my favorites.
Today was no different than the previous 100 mornings; except I read a web comic on Recode.net that stoked two concurrent emotions in my heart:
Laughter and sobriety.
I went from merriment to serious and then from serious to sad in about 15 seconds.
Here’s my story…
I know it sounds like a paradox – I mean – how can you feel both happy and sad at the same time?
We’ll I’ll be the first to tell you that it happened to me and the result put me in a melancholy mood most of the morning.
Like most crafty blog posts, I was hooked by the succinct heading so I clicked through to experience the full story.
Interestingly enough it wasn’t a story at all.
It was a comic strip with two scenes.
The first scene is full of felicity and wonder. It depicts a typical family huddled around an old computer assimilating a beautiful world delivered to their homes via the internet.
The father’s face reflects his excitement to spend time with his family as they explore this novel and foreign information medium. The daughter’s eyes are wide and lucid as she marvels at the progressive jpeg’s unfolding before her eyes.
The little boy is in the foreground steering his computer into the uncharted waters of the internet. His countenance is replete with curiosity and an innocent desire to discover.
He wants to engage with the world.
As my eyes darted across the happy scene, reading the little speech balloons and remembering what it was like for me two decades ago, I started to feel sad.
I began to pine after the past.
An insatiable urge to travel back in time and relive the nascent days of the internet swept over me. I think a big reason for my nostalgia was that the entire scene was so ingenuous. Not disingenuous, ingenuous.
Everything about that family scene seemed halcyon and Utopian. I couldn’t stop reminiscing over the internet that was.
But now it was gone: lost like a precious treasure aging at the bottom of the sea never to surface for the world to behold.
The second scene showed the internet as it is today.
Fast forward two decades through the anals of time to the summer of 2014.
Gone are the days when were were intrigued by the chime and gurgle of dial-up modems. On the contrary, the inchoate ideal of the information superhighway has turned into the information supermyway.
It’s all about my way.
- My experience.
- My Facebook friends.
- My Twitter followers.
It’s my microcosm where all my machines in my world whirl around me.
This is the sad truth of our world today.
And the juxtaposition of the before and after comic images conjured a deep sadness that is hard to put into words. There was an ineffable sense of a “paradise lost”. A dark sense of corruption where our once noble hearts were vitiated by something that was designed to be good.
I know the comic was meant to be entertaining, after all the source is joyoftech.com; however, it did precisely the opposite of that.
In that seemingly innocuous comic strip I peered into the impetuous hearts of men, and I saw my own heart throbbing on the floor beating for significance.
I saw the egomania that fuels our hapless lives as we incessantly seek meaning through social media.
And this is the thing: children and adults are equally beleaguered by this problem: whether it’s your ex-girlfriend on Facebook or the SVP of Marketing on LinkedIn – we all want to be liked and we’ve erroneously charged the internet to do something that it can never do:
Give us meaning.
But that’s like trying to cajole a phone book into giving you purpose: we can’t expect any of these things to give us significance.
But that’s a different topic for another day – the real issue on my mind is the paradoxical reality that our increasingly interconnected world continually begets an increasingly disconnected society.
I’m aware of the specious contradiction but I think you know what I mean. Never before has it been easier to communicate with friends and partners across continents. At the same time, never before in the history of technology have we been more:
- and Distracted
Most humans have two hands but live as if we only had one – because one hand – is always holding a smartphone.
The zeitgeist of our internet era says we need to be always ready.
What if I mess a notification? A call? A text? I need to be available. So the silence has been replaced with the rumbling dissonance of vibrating phones and chirping tablets. I’ve noticed this more and more as I get older (I’m 32) and it’s becoming something that I really worry about these days.
We live in a milieu where a couple walks into a restaurant, waits to be seated and is more transfixed on their phones than they are to each other.
Tweets replace talks
And good old-fashioned, intellectually engaging, heart-felt topics have been supplanted by insipid, superficial comments about the news and weather.
But this is bullshit.
What ever happened to looking into the other persons eyes and telling them how much you care about them? What ever happened to caring more about what’s on the other persons mind than how that email your boss just sent you ruffled your feathers?
What happened to just being human?
No one cares about anyone these days but numero uno. I actually wrote about this a few weeks ago when I delineated my epiphany about why I love Twitter.
In one sense, I think the internet has become a means for making us less human. My co-worker just shared with me that some people actually stack their phones in the table corner at restaurants and the first person who reaches for his phone before the check arrives has to pay.
I thought it was a good idea but that misses the point: the real question is why do we need to concoct such silly games for curbing behavior?
I contend that the real problem, the root problem isn’t the internet at all. In fact, I don’t even blame the myriad of smartphones we carry around for our forlorn societies.
The internet hasn’t corrupted our world – we – have corrupted our world because our hearts are corrupted.
We shouldn’t blame the burgeoning trend that causes the insularity of our lives on something “out there” but rather on something inside us.
The internet didn’t make us a culture of narcissistic, self-aggrandizing dolts who are utterly consumed by self-image and self-worth. No, on the contrary the internet is benign.
The cause of our choleric mood – the reason our wives feel alienated and our trepidation with data privacy grows worse is deeper and more insidious than the internet.
It’s because our hearts, the seat of our very being – is wrong. There’s something terribly amiss in the human race and we should stop blaming the internet for our grief and honestly consider the source.
I’m not saying that people aren’t capable of doing good things. We all know some of the most altruistic people in the world do greater good anyone. But I am saying that we all have a problem, a profound problem that imbues our hearts which won’t get fixed with any gadget or social media tool.
And until we admit that we are the problem we’ll always have our targets on the wrong goal.
The internet isn’t the problem – we are.