Tuesday, November 1, 2011

Internet Hiatus

On my way home today, I got to thinking. I wondered about what kind of life I would have lead if I had been born in an age before television, the internet, video games, and cell phones: back before the constant bombardment of meaningless stimuli that we have today, back before commercials told you every five seconds how you should spend what precious little time you have on this earth, and back before you could sit down to work on something but end up distracted for hours watching YouTube videos. What kind of a person would I have been? Before my family got a computer at home, I used to read for hours, I wrote poems and stories, I spent hours on my own looking at the trees and pondering the nature of the universe. These days, despite being older, presumably wiser, and currently enrolled in college I do very little of any of those things. Instead I sink my efforts into Blizzard games. I stare at shows on Hulu for hours at a time. I recheck my Facebook page a hundred times a day to see if anybody has left some pointless comment on a picture of myself I didn't need to post in the first place. In short, all that time I once used to expand my mind and further my ties with the natural world around me, I now waste sitting around doing nothing.

I might have been an important scholar or writer or philosopher in another age. I know it sounds arrogant to say so, but I still believe it to be true. Even in these modern times I was on the right path for a while, until I allowed myself to get derailed. The problem is that I'm intelligent, but I'm also easily distracted. I'll never know for sure what I could have done had I not been surrounded by today's array of mind-sapping entertainment available at a moment's notice. What I can and do know, however, is that I've allowed myself to be sucked into the machine to a degree I would never have believed possible in my childhood. I also know that I don't like the result. Every day I get fatter and lazier. Every day I feel less motivated to achieve anything of note. Every day I sink further into the chasm of unthinking and uncaring numbness. It's like sliding into a coma, and I'm afraid that if I do nothing to reverse the process, my mind will glaze over and I'll be left as nothing but a grey lump in a chair staring at a glowing screen.

Admittedly, this imagery is a little dramatic. I know logically that there are massive benefits available in our modern age that people from any other time would have killed to receive. Beyond even the obvious improvements in medicine, sanitation, and comfort of living there are intellectual benefits for those who use today's resources properly. The internet allows us to learn things in minutes that might once have taken days, weeks, or even years of study to uncover. The television gives us up-to-date accounts of current events from around the globe, keeping us better informed about matters of government, war, health, weather, and social concerns than people in centuries past could even imagine. Social networking sites and blogs allow us to write down our thoughts and ideas and present them to a larger audience than most of us could have ever hoped for in years past. All these tools are available to us, and for the right kind of people it makes this age the most exciting and productive era they could ever have hoped to inhabit.

Unfortunately, we are not all the "right kind of people". I, for one, am decidedly the wrong kind of person. That is not to say that I cannot possibly thrive, it simply means I need to take a different route to reach the desired destination. My salvation lies in my ability, honed through years of careful introspection, to recognize my own shortcomings. I lack the internal discipline to use technology exclusively for good. I do gain some benefit from it, but far more often it becomes a dump where I throw away hours upon hours of potentially productive and enriching time. Time is our most precious resource, and our time on this planet is undeniably finite, so to utterly waste that resource is probably the most injurious action we can take against ourselves. For my part, I've decided to stem the flow before I bleed out entirely.

This brings me to my main point, which is that I've decided to take a break from the computer. I don't have a smart phone, texting, or a television so by turning off my computer I essentially revert to having nothing technological beyond a telephone and a house with electricity and indoor plumbing. As an act of self-discipline and hopefully reconnection with a better version of myself, I'm keeping my computer off (except to meet specific academic obligations) for one month. Today is my last day online until December 1st, so I'm taking this time to get things in order and to alert people of my impending absence from this electronic world. Obviously this post serves as my explanation, and I hope that when I reappear in December it will be as a slightly happier and more balanced person. Of course, if this pseudo-sabbatical has its intended effects I won't be posting terribly actively upon my return, but that all remains to be seen. In any event, good luck to my readers over the coming month, happy Thanksgiving in advance, and may you all find your own paths to be who you want to be.