What a tangled web we weave in this fast-paced world of the information superhighway. Society has changed greatly in the last few years as the internet gains popularity. Everyone's online. Does your business have a website, and if not, why not? I must admit that my personality lends itself well to the solitary world of virtual reality, but unlike so many internet neophytes these days, I'd never thought about using email or surfing the web until after I completed multiple college degrees. With an insatiable urge for knowledge, stepping into the uncharted vastness of the internet provided me with an overwhelming wealth of information at my fingertips. The research I once did in a cubicle at the local library can now be done in the privacy of my own home at my leisure. I love it.
Armchair WWWorld traveler
The internet provides us with amazing opportunities to expand our cultural knowledge and "meet" people from all over the world. This affordable connectivity is almost like being able to travel around the world without having to board a plane. On my site, for example, you can follow me through British Columbia and Québec without ever setting foot outside your home. I've revisited the castles and cathedrals of Spain though I've not physically crossed the Atlantic since 1989. I've made friends across this country and around the world, but I wouldn't recognize them if I saw them on the street. I've traveled across north America stopping for coffee along the way to meet with friends I've made online. The internet is a great stomping ground for widely dispersed interest groups--if it weren't for the internet I would have never learned what I know about herpetology (the study of reptiles and amphibians), and my iguanas would not have lived a happy, healthy, long life. It's the best resource I've found for coming up with names for characters in my fiction; it's better than a hundred baby name books.
You can find information about nearly everything from aardvarks to Zefram Cochrane on the internet. Interested in the Moorish influences in Spanish architecture? Trying to make hotel reservations in Puerto Vallarta? Looking for a recipe for chicken Kiev? Wondering about the crash test ratings on that car you're interested in? Of course nothing in the virtual world (until we achieve superior holo-technology à la Star Trek) will ever compare to shouldering a backpack, strapping on skis, or flying over the Andes to land in Quito, but for the vast majority of us who cannot afford to take the time off or buy the plane ticket it's a viable option. We can follow the great explorers into the Arctic tundra and never have to put on a parka. I hope to contribute, in my small online photo albums, to a few of these adventures for armchair WWWorld travelers who've always wanted to see Montréal in autumn or the Oregon coast.
Socializing the beast
…I was taught to feel, perhaps too much, the self-sufficing power of solitude. --William Wordsworth, The Prelude (Book Second)
Humans are social animals. Scientists have said it for years, and the human race as a whole has proven it time and again. As social animals, how does the solitude of virtual reality affect us? Speaking as someone who prefers the graveyard shift over all others, I would venture to say that it doesn't affect me, but I know that's not really true. In the years since I graduated from college, since I've been online, it seems that I've been to fewer social events each year. Maybe that has something to do with the fact that I now hold down a serious job--rather than the odd jobs that got me through school--, and my hours are not those of the rest of the business world, but I have to lay some of the responsibility on the desk in front of the keyboard.
The internet has opened a world of possibility to everyone who can access it, but at what cost? The time that was once spent at family outings, in conversations face to face, with games of tag or hide-and-seek in the park, has been superceded by time spent in front of the monitor. At what point did we cross the line between a group of friends playing cops-and-robbers and a single kid sitting in front of a screen playing Carmageddon where points are awarded according to the amount of damage caused--including running down pedestrians and animals? A lot of games are multiplayer, internet-enabled games, so technically they're still playing with friends, right? Social interaction has been reduced to a few abbreviated words on a screen--in my opinion, socialization is being severely overlooked. We are slowly losing our ability to perform simple social tasks because we're not taught to interact with flesh and bone people.
So what would I propose? That's an excellent question to which I would have to respond: I don't know. Change starts with the recognition of a problem, and it certainly doesn't happen overnight. Edward Gibbon said that "Conversation enriches the understanding, but solitude is the school of genius." Maybe we should start with conversation before we allow such expansive solitude as computers foment; allow the genius a chance to grow and become socially adept before withdrawing.
A Parthian shot
"Will you walk into my parlour?" said the spider to the fly… --Mary Howitt
The web of information that is the internet is addictive, but, unlike most addictive substances, the addiction decreases over time. When first presented with the expanse of the internet, it can be quite daunting. As navigation becomes easier and more natural, users often find themselves wondering how they ever got on without it. Usage, therefore, increases at a generally rapid rate for some time, but it, often abruptly, falls off after a while. In the years since I first got online, my weekends have gone from 30-hour stretches in front of the computer--with a nap at the end before going to work again--to weekends where the computer doesn't get turned on at all. Not everyone is as drawn to the online world as I was, but the amount of time spent in front of the screen invariably rises then drops.
About three years ago, I wrote this: "My computerized life, pixelized in its mortality." Almost everything I do is involved with the internet or computers in some way, so I have no ground to stand on whilst complaining, so to speak. When I step back and try to see good and bad points of the whole thing, I'm overwhelmed with both. The internet is a wonderful tool, but like all tools, it requires some knowledge to operate properly. My fear is that we are becoming a society too entirely dependent on technology and forgetting the lessons our ancestors learned. Technology is often an easy way of accomplishing things, but it's easy to become complacent and take it for granted. I wonder how many kids finishing high school this year can do long division without an electronic aide.
Don't get me wrong. I love the internet, and my livelihood depends upon its use and growth. I just hope that it doesn't end up running counterpurpose. So many of my online encounters are tainted by such things as "kewl" and "how r u?" that I find myself cringing in my chair. Computers can be very educational, but they should not be used to the exclusion of conventional methods. Many years ago when I was in college, I dropped a math class because it required a graphing calculator--it was easier for me to plot a graph manually than to enter all the information in a calculator. Still, here I sit with my pen in hand writing this out to be typed later. Maybe I'm just old fashioned, but I try to keep things balanced. We all need a little balance in our lives.
The end crowns all
Thanks for reading. If you have any questions or comments, feel free to contact the turtle.