When you get on the Internet, what are you there for? To find some piece of information, perhaps: movie times, train schedules, store hours, etc? Or maybe you are there because it is habit: every day when you wake up, and sporadically throughout the day, you must go through your cycle of websites (for me it is CNN.com, then my three primary email accounts, then Relevantmagazine.com, then occasionally I’ll make a stop at my fourth email account). Or perhaps you go online simply because there is nothing else to do—and there is EVERYTHING to do on the web.
It is this last motivation that I’m the most interested in. The Internet, beyond being the most useful information-getting resource ever to be at mankind’s fingertips, is also the largest and most wonderful playground we’ve ever had. You can go anywhere, watch or listen to anything, buy whatever your heart desires, and do scores of other things that may or may not be acceptable in the “real” world.
With all of this at our disposal, it’s no wonder so many of us go online when we have a spare moment. It’s no wonder we can easily drop 3 hours online when we only intended to check our email. It’s like going to a massive and wonderful amusement park with the ostensible motivation of trying out the new rollercoaster. Of COURSE you’re going to stay all day and ride everything you can, while you’re there!
So it is with the Internet. It’s built on links and ads and things to push and pull us in new, alluring directions. It’s all about movement, dissatisfaction, keeping you wanting more.
Because there is EVERYTHING on the web, it is almost impossible—if you don’t have a utilitarian reason to be there—to choose where to go. Thus we rely on links and pop-ups and “if you liked this, you’ll like…” recommendations to guide us along the way. Thus, a typical session online is a hyperscattered, nonsensical web of aimless wandering, dead-ends, backtracking, and rabbit trails. But I think we like it this way. How nice to not be looking for something, but to be finding wonders and pleasures by the boatload, so easily! The search bar is our pilgrim guide online. Give it any clue as to what you desire, and it’ll lead you the rest of the way. Hit the google button and get your surf on.
But what is it we’re pursuing? The vast terrain of the web is an amusement park in which information is the diversion. Collecting more useless knowledge and facts is the name of the game. Whether we are there to check sports stats, see what we can download for free, or watch the latest goofy clip on YouTube, it’s all a passing trifle. It draws our attention for a second, but only until the next interesting link pops up.
For all the great and valuable things the Internet provides us, I wonder if it has done irreparable damage to our ability to think critically—to really mull over questions (that don’t have easily-Googled answers), seek out the big questions and not be at the mercy of a marketplace that prefers to ask and answer the questions for you. We should live our lives in a state of search, I think, but the Internet all too often makes “searching” a trivial pursuit.