The Internet: Have Patience, Little Grasshopper

When I started using the internet it was 1995. I had a modem connected to the telephone, and there were, well, eight or so web pages on the web at that time. I remember those exciting evenings of connecting to my favorite site, and then going to make some tea.. or to work... or on a European vacation... and then returning to see if the page had fully loaded yet. There wasn't so much pornography on the net back then, as by the time the screen had loaded the picture beyond the bikini girl's neck, you had used up your modem access for the month.

Things have changed since then. Now most of the internet is devoted to pornography. Even the most august scientists, using the internet to hold online conferences on chemical heat transfer research, occasionally feel obligated to tell the other scientists what type of underwear they are wearing, just to maintain the spirit of the internet. Things weren’t so morally depraved when I was little, by Jiminy. We had ethics, not like the rotten kids nowadays. No sir, we had to look at our dirty pictures of naked girls in magazines.

We are only starting to see the massive effect of the internet on our civilization. If we were to bring Charles Dickens to the present time, he probably wouldn’t have trouble understanding our English, as the grammar and pronunciation hasn’t changed so much in the last century. But Dickens wouldn’t understand much of our modern vocabulary. He would be lost in conversations about bit rates, browser plug-ins, and mp3 compression. Of course, he wouldn’t be paying attention anyway to the conversation. He would be online surfing, and commenting, "By the lord Harry! This Jessica Alba has a fair figure, I’ll reckon!"

Okay-time for a cold shower and back to the discussion. What exactly is the internet, anyway? Well, it's a giant system of computers all linked together in a world-wide system of connections, which permits individual users to hook in and access information from anywhere. Thus, in less than seconds, you can communicate with someone's computer in Helsinki, and get a virus from them. Isn't progress wonderful? In my day, you had to get the virus by having someone mail it to you.

E-mail is probably the most useful thing about the internet, at least to me. It permits you to keep in touch instantly with friends, associates, and Viagra resellers all over the world. People who might not have otherwise taken the time out of their busy lives find it convenient to share their experiences with me in e-mails such as this:

Hey Ken. What's new? Not much here. Eric.

And e-mail is not only good for personal communications, but it helps you to apply for jobs, discuss issues with co-workers, or file forms with large institutions, all from the comfort of your bed while you eat chocolate muffins in your underwear. Of course, I've seldom actually gotten a job from an e-mail application. Perhaps I shouldn't have described my underwear. Old habits die hard, you know.

There are problems with the internet, of course. We've talked about the good things that the internet can do, but apart from the abstract social benefit of broadcasting live webcam images of your rabbit worldwide, evil lurks on the internet, in a, uh, lurking way. People never lurk nowadays. I think it's a shame. People used to lurk more in days of yore. "Hey, Bob, why don't you come over, and we'll hang out at the mall and lurk. Bob? Hello?" Oh, well. I also want to find out what or who yore was too, but people don't know. You'd think someone as important as Tom, or Ralph, or Al Yore (maybe he invented the internet) or whoever would be remembered. People are so unsentimental these days.

So what's the problem with the internet? One issue that I hear about a lot is that people are reading less since the internet came along, or reading less quality material. Reading novels or history trains the mind in a different way than reading tiny bits of hyperlinked text does, and to many people it's just junk food for the brain. Besides, to publish a book you have to do some fact checking or have qualifications, whereas your crazy uncle can make a web page documenting how your potato chips are spying on you. Nevertheless, it sounds a little elitist. I wonder how much fact checking or qualifications goes into those supermarket magazines about JENNIFER LOPEZ AND ELVIS GIVE BIRTH TO HITLER REINCARNATION IN ALIEN HOSPITAL. Besides, I want to know more about the potato chips spying.


Another problem with the internet is that it aggravates the divisions between rich and poor in our society. People who can master internet tools benefit in life, and those who can’t afford to are left behind, although they can be quite knowledgeable about Jennifer Lopez and Elvis' new baby. I hear they are naming her Adolfina. There’s nothing like the romance of a May-December romance, I always say.

I’m not sure that being computer literate really is an exclusive ticket to the upper class anyway. If everyone else can use a computer, even your crazy uncle who has trouble operating a toaster without supervision, you’re hardly going to stand out. When the internet started, it might have looked good to put on my resume:

Skills
Proficient with e-mail and the internet.

In the 21st century, if you put that on your resume, the reader will think of it in this way:

Skills
Can put together a puzzle without eating the pieces.

What are other problems people ponder in perpetuity these days about the internet? Okay, I promise I won't do that again. Well, one is privacy. People worry that all of their private lives will be exposed to prying eyes or institutions, or that personal information will be leaked to the wrong people. I can understand people being nervous about credit card fraud. Well, actually I can't as the bank took away my last credit card years ago, but my understanding is abstract and non-objective, dammit. And I can also relate to people worrying about details of their lives being viewed by strangers. However, people are strange creatures. We also have web logs where we describe what we ate that day in exhausting detail. People who work in privacy advocacy groups must have very little hair left.

Anyway, I have to finish this. I'm typing on my laptop because Charles Dickens is still hogging my desktop computer, and I'd better go check on him before he gets me into trouble. He's over there muttering that his next novel will be about starving orphans in a London slum who raise a share offering for their search engine. I would be more convinced if he hadn't made Miss October a wallpaper on my monitor. Okay, back to the past for you, Chuck.

So what's the best way to succeed using technology? My advice is to master the off button. Read real books sometimes. Don't stare at your monitor all day, or your eyes will turn to halvah. Don't write everything on your blog. No one cares about what your cat coughed up. And it may come back to you someday, if you're applying for a postdoctorate and the department head doesn't like cats. It happened to Reagan. Assume that people on the internet know who you are, and you'll be less inclined to do stupid things. Follow my example: do stupid things anonymously, away from your computer.

At this moment, I am finishing this chapter while checking my e-mail. E-mail is very addictive. It's getting so I can't have a conversation with someone without thinking 'send' after I stop talking. But the convenience of the internet is wonderful. By the way, I'm wearing gray underwear with black stripes. I felt driven to say. Aren't you glad you know that? Boy, the internet is addictive.