I need to stop looking at things on the internet

Internet wallpaper from fecoo.com

Internet wallpaper from fecoo.com

This is probably a hypocritical statement for a blogger, but it’s true: I need to stop looking at things posted on the internet.

If you, like me, have a smartphone and/or a Twitter account and/or a Facebook account, you have probably become aware that you are spending too much time reading or viewing things on a screen and less time doing…anything else. You have probably also become aware that most of what you read/view is neither productive nor enlightening and may in fact be making you stupider (this is speculation, as I am not a psychologist I really can’t definitively determine whether or not anyone is becoming “stupider”).

I have a lot of reasons for feeling this way (and the more I think about it the more reasons I come up with), but generally speaking it comes down to this:

  1. I believe too many things I read/see on the internet, even though anybody with a computer and a high-speed connection can post an article or video on the internet. I mean, I’m doing it right now, and I’m not an expert in anything.
  2. At the same time, because it’s on the internet, I am cynical and skeptical of everything I read/see (especially if it makes me uncomfortable, would require action on my part, or is something I don’t agree with). It doesn’t help, of course, when there is little to no fact-checking or framing of what friends/Twitter peeps post and share. An eye-catching headline about corruption in the TEDx Talks organization, for example, will reel me in, and then halfway through the article the writer will start claiming that vaccines cause autism (they don’t!) and I will realize that instead of cruising the Information Highway for the last ten minutes I’ve actually been riding the New Age Paranoia Crazy Train the whole time.
  3. I have caught myself experiencing FOMO (Fear Of Missing Out) if I am behind on reading/viewing the latest internet meme. As if there’s going to be a quiz on this crap later. Or as if any of my real-life friends and colleagues would think less of me if I hadn’t listened to the digitally-altered audio recording of the crickets that sound like creepy angels (except I have, of course).
  4. I have increasingly caught myself reading comments sections (!), which just leaves me feeling sad and angry that so many people, even in Canada, are so racist, misogynistic, homophobic, inconsiderate (of their fellow humans and their environment), uninformed, and greedy. And annoyed and mystified that so many people, even after at least 12 years of school, are unable to spell or use anything resembling proper grammar.
  5. The vast majority of the posts I encounter are meaningless and their sole purpose is the wasting of time (I’m looking at you, random Buzzfeed lists). This means that something very significant and very detrimental happens: boredom is no longer inspiring. Internet memes/posts/videos, etc. are so easy to access and so facile that I simply maintain my current level of boredom instead of actually becoming bored enough that I want to do something active or creative.

I think the loss of traditional boredom is what troubles me the most because, unlike my other concerns, it can’t be mitigated with critical thinking. Time-wasting posts and memes aren’t deep, and they generally don’t require any critical thinking at all. Or any thinking. Which means I’m just…breathing…in front of a screen…and moving my fingers to click or scroll sometimes. It’s kind of a disgusting state to be in. If I’m that bored, why can’t I read a book or play an instrument or maybe WRITE something for goodness sakes? Why can’t I use my boredom as an impetus for creation or action or even just exposure to good literature or good art?

I’m lazy, and I know this. I love to procrastinate and I tend to avoid doing the creative things I love for fear I’ll start a project and realize it’s not any good (this is why I blog, to keep myself writing even when I don’t feel very talented). The thing is, in the past, extreme boredom would at least lead to notes and scribbles and BEGINNINGS of something creative. Now I just have a data plan and very little to show for it. How sad.

It is for this reason that I am going to try, for the entirety of my Yuletide holiday, to not read a single article or click on a single meme on the internet (I will still be on Facebook because I’m not some kind of holy wizard, but I won’t click away to anything posted). This means no reading blog posts in the airport, or watching Upworthy videos in bed (they seem to be primarily slam poetry anyways, which is not my thing so I really don’t know why I watch them). This means no getting all huffy and incensed over the latest political outrage in Canada or Australia or the U.S. or the Middle East or England or Russia (there is more than enough to get huffy about in my Maclean’s, which I still read on paper). This means no being worried that the fall-out from Fukushima is going to kill us all, or that every single product I put in or on my body is giving me cancer. This means no reading up on this or that misogynistic pop artist, this or that quack celebrity doctor, or this or that train wreck of a film/music video/appearance on Saturday Night Live. I need a break from all of this self-inflicted noise.

I need some quiet. For my brain. We’ll see how it goes.

[P.S. I am aware that I may be contributing to the noise by blogging, but at least my goal here is the sharing of my opinions, ideas, and experiences, and the improvement of my writing, rather than going viral and making a million dollars or some such nonsense.]

Dear English Paper: Go Write Yourself

Dear English Paper,

I’ve been avoiding you, and I’m sorry.

In a way, this is all my fault. I took my first undergraduate English literature course when I was 18 years old and now, nine years later, I still don’t seem to have learned my lesson. I admit that it was arrogance on my part to register in a first-year fiction course with the assumption that I (who have been taking upper level English classes for the past few years) would find it easy. In my defense, I thought it might be interesting to get back to fiction basics, and also, the student bus pass I get when I take courses is SUPER cheap. All excuses aside, we’re here now, and I know it’s childish of me to hide from you.

But does this really have to be so hard? It’s not that I don’t want to write you, I do! In fact, I absolutely love having written an English paper, it’s just that I don’t want to go through the act of writing you, rehashing the same old MLA guidelines over and over, dealing with word counts and pretentious-sounding titles. We’ve been through it all before and every time it exhausts me.

We have some history, you and I. It’s not as though you’ve always been kind to me–I recall several occasions during which I was slumped on the rug between the shelves of the library’s journal collections crying because I couldn’t find the article I was looking for (and when I did find it, it wasn’t useful anyways). There’s been a lot of wasted printer ink. A lot of late nights. I give and I give and I give, English Paper, and it’s never enough for you, is it?

But I don’t want to blame you. You want me to be better. You want me to read more critically, think more deeply, and write more persuasively. I understand this, but it still hurts. In the dead of night when I’m hunched over my laptop and I want nothing more than to close my eyes and sleep or maybe, just maybe, read a damn book for pleasure now and again, it hurts.

I want you to know that the relief I feel every time I hand you off and stop thinking about you is immense. But something keeps drawing me back to you, English Paper, and I just can’t keep myself away–soon we are entwined in the same familiar dance: introductory paragraph, argument, textual support, properly cited references, conclusion… I spice it up with a few clever turns of phrase, something daring, something a bit flashy even, but soon that spark disappears and we go through the motions, plodding along, torturing one another until I’m so sick of you I stop caring whether I’ve done right by you, whether I’ve done the best I could.

Tell me, English Paper, how does the family dynamic affect the characters’ emotional growth in D.H. Lawrence’s Sons and Lovers? And would you say any of them find fulfillment? Why or why not?

But you won’t tell me. You’ll simply blink at me, your blank face transmitting nothing but my own words, words which seem foolish upon reevaluation. You will take my words, and give me nothing.

And yet, here we are. All paths lead to you. It is time for me to conclude this epistle and meet you face to face once more, on the barren white battlefield of our difficult and pedantic love.

Adieu, adieu