Nicholas Carr has a new book out called The Shallows that basically argues that the Internet is rewiring our brains to be more ADHD. I don’t know if I’d go that far, but I do think he’s on to something. I find my ability to really sit down and read a long contemplative piece of writing is flagging. Maybe it’s the distance from grad school or the drain of a job or just the feeling that I’ve done my duties in the slow-paced world of close reading and want well-written fiction that excites me now (bye bye Ginny Woolf, hello George 2R’s Martin).
Yet I can’t escape the feeling that the Internet has something to do with it. The shortness of blog posts (and even a 5-paragraph blog post will lose me), the ever-present shiny blue link taking me somewhere more exciting, the vast and endless store of information, misinformation, and naked people doing naked things.
I used to worry that I was addicted to the ‘net, but that’s not it. Stick me in the middle of the woods for a week and I won’t miss it. I’ll miss e-mail, but not my daily strolls through the New York Times, Slate, the Onion, Gawker, Salon, and the Atlantic Online. But as soon as I get home, I’ll spend hours going through them. This is useful as they all provide something good– news, essays, reviews, humor, food for thought. After a while, though, I just keep clicking to click, surfing to surf. I’ll run out of anything worthwhile to read, but I’ll keep going, mindlessly jumping from site to site and page to page hoping something will strike my fancy, even when I know I need to do the dishes or put my clothes in the dryer or call my landlord about the giant squid I found in my bathtub.
I’m not addicted to the Internet, I just can’t stop using it when I know I should. It’s not crack, it’s Doritos. Once I open that bag and eat a few, I can’t stop until the bag is empty. Unfortunately, the Internet is never empty. There’s always more to see, more to download.
I’ve tried to break free. I canceled my Internet at home and got an iPhone. This way, I figured, I could check my e-mail and Google maps and the occasional website, but nothing more. iPhones are great for accessing specific info or sites on the Tubes, but are too small to lend themselves to long form hyperlink vagrancy.
For a few months, all was well. My life at home was productive. I cooked. I cleaned. I wrote. I watched worthwhile TV. And then a new neighbor moved into the building and didn’t put a password on his wireless router and I got sucked right back into the Void.
My new strategy is to maintain momentum. When I get home or get to work I can’t check it. Once Firefox pops up all hope is lost. Instead, I try to plow through the day’s tasks, promising myself a dose of electronic junk food when it’s over. I don’t need ice cream to motivate myself. I have Wikipedia.
Very soon I’ll be buying a netbook. I have a laptop at home, but it’s cumbersome to drag around all the time and I worry about damaging it. I can get a 2 lbs. netbook for cheap and use it for writing in cafes, airports, and toilet stalls. Easy and easily portable.
All I really want the netbook for is writing and extra storage for photos and documents. Unfortunately, netbooks are primarily designed for, well, the net. On the one hand, this is good. Writing Kumiko means I occasionally need to plug into the Matrix and find out the molting patterns of nephila clavata spiders or the name of a Japanese pop star my students loved. And I can update this blog for your reading pleasure. On the other hand, once I’m on, the siren call of political bloggers, snarky movie reviews, and videos of cats playing keyboards is hard to resist.
There is software to block the Internet for a certain amount of time, which I will probably download and use to keep myself from downloading anything else. Mostly what I want is to have a computer that has Internet access but makes getting that access really difficult. Like a computer where I double click on the Firefox icon and, before it opens, I have to answer a long division question or write a short essay about the War of Spanish Succession.
All of which is to say, why are you still reading this? Don’t you have anything better to do?