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The disconnect of using the internet

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.

How living the same day over and over could lead to new things

Groundhog Day was one of my favorite movies of all time, so it was with interest that I read this particular article where the author attempts to calculate how much time Phil (Bill Murray) spent stuck in Groundhog Day, and concludes that it was roughly the equivalent of about 34 years.

Harold Ramis (the director) indicated that it was at least 10 years, so this probably isn’t a stretch.  34 years reliving the same day.  Whew.

And yet, as much as Phil may have seen that as a living hell, I see it really as an act of remarkable grace and fortune.  No matter how much he screwed up, the day was reset and he could start over with a blank slate, yet still remember the lessons he learned from the previous day.  It took years, but over that time he began to gradually morph into a different kind of person, one who looked outward instead of inward, and used the ample time he was given not only to become a better man, but a man who significantly expanded his horizon of knowledge and skills that often takes years to master (such as learning the piano and becoming an ice sculptor).

Those of us in the real world though only have a finite amount of time from which to spend our existence, and some of us do indeed experience our own version of Groundhog Day, living the same lives, doing the same things, day after day after day…

Except in our cases, by the time we wise up and start to realize how precious life is, 30+ years will have gone by that we will never get back again.  Once it’s gone, that’s it.  Unlike Phil, we get no do-over.

When I reflect on my own life, I realize, startlingly, that nothing has really changed for me in over 14 years.  I have the same job, same routine, same habits, same gripes, same complaints, same problems.  I’m a dog zipping around the same well worn tracks in a small backyard.  Is this really healthy?  Are we meant to become creatures of habit and stasis?

I do believe that we have a deep-seated need towards learning, creating, advancing and other things that give us a sense of achievement and accomplishment.  When we’re locked into a holding pattern though, each day the same as the one before, our minds begin to stagnate, becoming fat, lethargic and lazy.

There is something utterly fulfilling about forward motion, and likewise equally as depressing about remaining in stasis.

But what does forward motion mean?  Does it require a drastic life change such as quitting a job and moving to places unknown, or getting married?  Sooner or later the drudgery of life still tends to catch up, and even in new jobs and new families we can still find ourselves in constant stasis.

For Christians, one of the tenets of Scripture that so few can abide by is the persistent admonishment to STAND STILL (and see the salvation of the LORD).  To purposely cease from action and rely on God for dramatic changes of course in one’s life is probably one of the hardest acts of faith to follow through on.  Instead, I find many dismiss these commandments out of hand and move forward on their own, scheming, plotting, manipulating, and presumptuously believing every decision they make is sanctioned by God, without seeking His counsel, without praying, without any willingness to cede to His will.  To remain in one place, one spot, one boring moment in our lives that never seems to end is a thought that terrifies both Christians and non-Christians alike.

But what happens when that moment we live in, or more specifically, that day (as we see in Groundhog Day) is literally frozen in time beyond our control?  Are we forever doomed to stasis and a lack of forward momentum forever?

I believe that’s a question the film answers: ultimately, no, we’re not.  Even reliving the same day and trapped in the same mundane rituals of daily routine, we can still learn new things, forge new bonds, and continuously improve ourselves, our knowledge, and our skills, even if some of them might take years to master.  My mistake had been focusing on the routine, and using that to justify my complacency.  “Oh, my life isn’t going anywhere, so there’s no point in me trying to make the most of the time I have here on earth.”

It’s easy, too easy, for me to sit down and watch Netflix and just let my mind rot away, or endlessly check my emails every 5 minutes to see if the people I’ve emailed finally remember to stop being as rude as sin and get back to me.

I live next to one of the greatest cities in the world, and yet I look for every excuse not to visit.  I don’t take up a new hobby or visit new places.  I wallow in misery and depression because I’ve become so focused on wanting my Groundhog Day to END that I’ve lost interest in everything else.  I’m sick of the same old thing, the same old story, the same old problems, the same old day.  I fight, I rebel, and I look for ways out, often to my own detriment, and in the end I realize I’m fighting something I have no control over.  Only God can end my Groundhog Day, and if He chooses not to, then accepting that He is also a benevolent God, I must learn to understand why.  Is the monotony of life really the catalyst to my demise, or is there a lesson He wants me to learn from this (just as Phil had to learn), that would lead to my salvation instead?  By stressing over the things I have no control over, I am in essence telling God that I do not trust Him, that I do not believe His promises, that I in fact have doubts that He even cares or desires to change the circumstances of life in my favor.  And in all that despair I realized I was missing the forest for the trees.

While I must relive my own Groundhog Day for a season, that is time given to me to improve my life, get healthier, and prepare myself accordingly for when a new day finally arrives.  But above all, it is time needed to learn faith, by learning to let go of the things I cannot change and the doors I cannot open on my own.  If the life of living Groundhog Day should teach me anything, it is that I should learn to live in the moment, rather than worry about what will come tomorrow.  And even if that moment happens to be trapped in a day that endlessly repeats itself, it is still a moment worth living.

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