I’ve been thinking about this article on Robin Williams for a while, but haven’t had a chance to really express my thoughts on it till now:
Our ability to take just about any event and turn it into an online argument is one of our modern society’s mentally unhealthy habits. In fact, if we wanted to build a culture that deliberately cultivated feelings of depression, isolation, anger, and despair, how different would it look from the one we have now?
The first key aspect of this perfect depressive dystopia would be to get as many people as possible interacting with screens, instead of with flesh-and-blood human beings, as often as possible. (Pause for the irony that you’re almost certainly reading this on a screen.) Prevalent aspects of human contact from the dawn of human civilization — eye contact, tone of voice, volume of voice, sarcasm and inflection, posture, body language — would be removed from the increasingly common forms of communication, and everyone would spend as much time as possible interpreting the true meaning of hieroglyphics that are supposed to resemble human faces. Miscommunications, perceived insults, and fights would grow apace.
This depressive world would remove the tactile sensation of human touch, expressed in a romantic and sexual sense but also in the gestures of a handshake, a hand on the shoulder, a hug, a pat on the back. Entire friendships would begin and end online, with the individuals never interacting in person.
This might be one of the reasons I’ve never really threw myself into blogging the way others have. As much as I enjoy expressing myself in the written form, I’m ever mindful of the fact that I must constantly pull my punches in order not to draw the ire of an anonymous internet, which has no aversion to completely destroying and ruining the lives of people simply because of a difference in opinion. I’m not an actual human being whose philosophy has been driven in large part by his life experience. I’m merely words on a screen to be attacked with all the rage and furor of a demon hellbeast because my words don’t fit the prescribed and acceptable Narrative of the Day.
The constantly online life would undoubtedly come at the expense of the offline life. People would interact with their neighbors less. There would be fewer shared social experiences — the social phenomenon of Bowling Alone on steroids. The offline world would seem more full of strangers, more suspicious, more potentially dangerous, full of vivid, widely covered stories of violence and wrongdoing reminding us to not trust each other.
The constant online presence would lead to a world of nonstop instant reaction, where everyone could immediately transmit the first thought that popped into his head in response to news. Everyone’s first reaction would become his defining reaction, particularly if it’s dumb or knee-jerk. If it was racist, sexist, hateful, or obnoxious, even better. Those horrified would then share and retweet it to their friends and followers, spreading the perception that the world was overpopulated with hateful idiots, and that average Americans — or average human beings! — were rather nasty, ignorant creatures unworthy of respect or affection….
The widespread perception that almost everyone else was a moron — why, just look at the things people post and say on the Internet! — would facilitate a certain philosophy of narcissism; we would have people walking around convinced they’re much smarter, and much more sophisticated and enlightened, than everyone else.
I think I may be more sensitive to this than most, because of a combination of introversion and inability to hear normally, the internet isn’t merely a place of escape as it tends to be for others; it’s where I actually live (as horrific an admission as that might be). Heck I even bought my car online.
I seem to forget that the average internet user is only submerged in this strange online world a couple of blow-off hours a day, while I’m here all day. I work here.
And sometimes I forget my imperative to disconnect and then I wind up playing here after having worked here all day.
As much as the internet tends to provide huge benefits to people like me, along with the freedom of not being tied down to a cubicle in some dark corner of the office, it’s also brought about a mentally unhealthy disconnect that I’m seeking to correct. I’ve made the assumption for too long that how I use the internet is also how nearly everyone else uses it, and due to that assumption, there’s been no end of frustration trying to connect to people who live most of their lives (sociably and otherwise) off-line.
To some extent I blame the area I live in now, the bubble of Long Island that has made it nearly impossible for me to connect to the communities (or lack thereof) here in a meaningful way. There are, as couples approaching the end would say, irreconcilable differences between me and this place, leaving me no other recourse but to simply move. Dealing with the hostility of what I’ve come to regard as a truly evil place has driven me ever inward and deeper into my personal man cave, reducing any outings to quick runs at the supermarket after hours.
This isn’t fanciful thinking either; I’ve read far too many emails from people who left New York telling me stories of how their lives were completely transformed by the move. They could finally spread their wings like a butterfly and explore the world around them with a sense of joy and peace.
I’ve come to realize the internet simply can’t replicate that; there are certain things I can only truly appreciate the fullness of by living it in real life rather than online.