For the last few years I’ve been thinking about my relationship with the Internet, something I have access to every day, something I use fairly compulsively, something that caused a fight in a cafe in our hotel in Vegas when Kel quite rightly pointed out that it’s really infuriating to sit opposite someone at a table over a meal and have to wait while your companion Tweets or Facebooks or emails. It’s incredibly anti-social and it’s incredibly rude and it’s something I do all the time and for someone who would list as one of her greatest pleasures sharing a meal and some wine with friends and discussion and debate, it makes no sense that I choose to spoil such moments by habitually being on my phone.
Recently I’ve come across two pieces of writing, one Twitter-specific, and one about the entertainment industry in general, which confirmed (and made more succinct) some of the things I don’t like about the development of modern technology, and which cemented my position not to leave it, but to use it differently, even if in the beginning that is something as simple as not touching my phone when I’m spending time with friends.
The first piece was written by Barrie Cassidy about Twitter’s response to a pre-election debate between Julia Gillard and Tony Abbott:
The Twittersphere twittered its usual cynical group-speak, with each person trying to be cleverer than everyone else in a few words, and most commentators gave analysis not of the debate, but of how the worm saw the debate. All up, the participants delivered far more value than the commentators – The Party Thieves, Barrie Cassidy.
The second, a much longer analysis, is from an interview David Lipsky did with David Foster Wallace over a period of several days on Wallace’s book tour for Infinite Jest in 1996, in which Wallace discusses the danger of entertainment technology:
The technology’s gonna get better and better at doing what it does, which is seduce us into being incredibly dependant on it, so that advertisers can be more confident we will watch their advertisements. And as a technology system, it’s amoral. It doesn’t … it doesn’t have a responsibility to care about us one whit more than it does: It’s got a job to do. The moral job is ours. You know, why am I watching five hours a day of this? I mean, why am I getting 75 percent of my calories from candy? I mean, that’s something a tiny child would do, and that would be alright. But we’re postpubescent, right? Somewhere along the line, we’re supposed to have grown up.
What has happened to us, that I’m now willing – and I do this too – that I’m willing to derive enormous amounts of my sense of community and awareness of other people, from television? But I’m not willing to undergo the stress and awkwardness and and potential shit of dealing with real people. And that as the Internet grows, and as our ability to be linked up, like – I mean, you and I coulda done this through e-mail, and I never woulda had to meet you, and that woulda been easier for me. Right? Like, at a certain point, we’re gonna have to build some machinery, inside our guts, to help us deal with this .
Because this idea that the Internet’s gonna become incredibly democratic? I mean, if you’ve spent any time on the Web, you know that it’s not gonna be, because that’s completely overwhelming. There are four trillion bits coming at you, 99 percent of them are shit, and it’s too much work to do triage to decide. So it’s very clearly, very soon there’s going to be some economic niche opening up for gatekeepers. You know? Or, what do you call them, Wells, or various nexes. Not just of interest but of quality. And then things will get real interesting. And we will beg for those things to be there. Because otherwise we’re gonna spend 95 percent of our time body-surfing through shit that every joker in his basement [has written] … I tell you, there’s no single more interesting time to be alive on the planet Earth than in the next twenty years. It’s gonna be – you’re gonna get to watch all of human history played out again real quickly – Although of Course You End Up Becoming Yourself: A Road Trip with David Foster Wallace, David Lipsky.
Interestingly enough, reading these two pieces coincided with moving and deciding not to have a television. It’s very hard for me to waste away hours before bed now, and while it’s not been easy to break the habit, or in my case, the sense of habit, in the past week the amount of reading I’ve done has been phenomenal. I’ve made my way through about four issues of Vanity Fair, finished three books and the end of a fourth that had been sitting idle for months and I’ve started writing stuff and not just blog stuff, but fiction, which I’ve never found very easy or devoted very much time to, yet I find myself needing a pad of paper and a pen beside my bed.