Last Friday, I composed and sent an email. An hour went by. No response. Two hours. Three. The rest of the day. It’s now Sunday. Crickets. Logic says that’s no big deal. Maybe his internet connection is down. Maybe he’s away, and doesn’t bother with the internet when he’s away. Maybe he’s given up the internet for Lent. A part of me that didn’t exist before I had access to the internet, though, is mystified and frustrated and feeling somewhat rejected. Why has he not written back? Why, why, why? It’s been a whole bloody weekend! This is a sensation that I would never experience if it weren’t for the fact that we’re all connected, all the time. I don’t have a name for it, so I’ll call it “crickets angst”. Definition: mounting anxiety caused by receiving no response to your message; crickets angst escalates quickly. It is particularly strong when the non-responder is a person known for responding quickly, or a good friend or family member.
Crickets angst is closely related to the feeling I get when I put up pictures on Facebook and no one comments or even “likes” them. I start to wonder if, for some reason, nobody saw them – so I check the security status of my pictures. No, it says friends can see them. My news feed shows activity by various friends who normally respond to my pictures. Then why has nobody commented? These pictures have been available for twenty minutes already! Are my pictures boring? Am I boring? Well, kind of! Why would people be interested in dozens of pictures of the same person in different clothes with different backgrounds, day after day after day? Who needs to see a picture of what I ate at a restaurant everyone’s been to? A decade of Christmas trees? They’re beautiful, but they all look the same (well, except for the one we had in 2012 that probably could have been seen from space – lovingly christened tree-hemoth).
After years of surfing the net, I’m more impatient than ever. If a page takes more than five seconds to load, I start jiggling the mouse. I hit the refresh button obsessively. I right-click on things – not sure why. Maybe to reassure myself that the mouse is still working? I draw mouse-pointer circles around various images on the screen. Sometimes I pound the enter key or the space bar. I can barely contain my annoyance that what I clicked on is not in front of me right now. If my internet connection is down, I immediately start thinking of all the things I can’t do. Can’t check my bank account or pay bills. Won’t know if someone’s sent me an email. Might miss an invitation. Can’t look things up. Can’t upload pictures. But it’s been ages since I last uploaded pictures! (“Ages” being, of course, a few days.)
Sometimes I have to steel myself while scrolling through my news feed, because – without warning – a disturbing image pops up. It could be connected to a news item about a bombing or a plane crash. It could be one of those ridiculous urban legends – “Girl uses a new skin cream – you won’t believe what happened to her face!” Then there are the highly suspect stories at the bottom of so many websites I visit, accompanied by photos of melting celebrity faces and double-iris eyeballs and that guy with a deep dent in his head (I think that one’s about sports injuries). I never read those stories, but they are continuously offered to me. Sometimes there’s just too much sadness. Missing or abused children. Prayers and virtual candles for the dead. That horrible poem about a teenager who gets in a car with a drunk driver. It’s not even well-written, but it makes the rounds again and again. Everything has to be taken with a whole packet of salt, never mind a grain, because so few people actually take the time to verify what they post.
Youtube offers solid proof that people are desperate for celebrity status in any arena. Guy chugs four litres of milk. Girl shaves head on a dare. Burping contests. Stripping teenagers. Dancing babies. Goofy pets. Rants about everything. How-to videos for everything from hairstyles to home improvement to opening a pomegranate (saw it, used it, it works – just ignore the comment about cutting the top off the pomegranate and “scalping it …. the way an Indian does a human being”). Everyone who ever thought they could sing well, singing their collective hearts out, hoping to be discovered. Most of this stuff is useless, some of it embarrassing, but sometimes I find myself watching it anyway. How many hours have I wasted on Youtube? I hope I never have an answer to that question, because it would almost certainly be depressing.
Without the internet, I would never have had to have a discussion with Fiona and Bridget about what constitutes “appropriate content”. I howled with laughter when Ryan, who regularly checks the search history on our computer, showed me that someone had searched using the term “wiggling privates”. However, I managed to keep a straight face during the conversation that followed.They broke a household rule and then tried to hide it, so they lost their internet privileges for a week. Having an internet connection is like having a window on the whole world, with thousands of different views. Many of these views simply should not be seen by children, and constant parental vigilance is required. My parents never had to deal with this! If I wanted to know about sex, I had to have an older brother with a stash of dirty magazines under his bed – or a cousin with a book with a plain brown paper cover. I had neither, although I did have a friend who didn’t mind asking her mother …. er …. sensitive questions. Now, it’s a simple matter of waiting for your parents to leave the room for a few minutes, and typing any term in a search box. Boom! Pages and pages of links appear, whichever one you choose loading in seconds at the single click of a mouse. If it’s even that tough. Many children have their own device that goes wherever they go, and minimal supervision. They have to be taught how to protect their personal information and how to avoid buying things by accident around the same time they are taught to read and write. If your child has an email account, you will, at some point, have to explain what Viagra is or why anybody would want a penis enlargement or that they really shouldn’t contact Kandy Bottom for a good time. Maybe even all three.
If it weren’t for the internet, I wouldn’t have that eerie sensation of somebody’s-watching-me whenever I log in to any account. The ads used to be generalized. Now they’re frighteningly well-tailored to my taste. Stores I love. Dresses that are just my style, sexy shoes, body jewellery, books by my favourite authors, music by my favourite artists, clever lunch box time-savers, kids’ outings and camps, all of it available in my area. I’m sure I’m not the only one who buys more junk because of the internet. You can turn off your radio or television when the commercials become too obnoxious, you can toss out the flyers stuffed into your mailbox without a glance, you don’t have to pick up the phone. But if you, like most people, use emails to keep in touch and do your banking online, you cannot avoid the temptation of just-what-you-always-wanted, dangling in front of your screen-scalded eyes.
On the other hand, because of the internet, there’s less of something I love: the printed word. Newspapers are becoming slimmer as more and more of their content is contained on their website. If I subscribe to a newspaper, it’s because I want a newspaper – not a stupid bar code to scan with my smartphone so I can spend more time online. Magazines are pulling the same trick. If you buy a magazine, you’re mainly paying for glossy ads – you have to visit the magazine’s website to access many of the articles and photo essays. And e-books …. Well, e-books are breaking my heart. There’s something about the weight of a book, the smell of ink, the dry rustle of turning pages. Reading is a tactile experience. Not a virtual one. Not for me, anyway.
I know it’s only a matter of minutes before someone pokes their nose in here to point out that, without the internet, I would not have this blog. The internet offers so much entertainment. It gives me a simple way of connecting with people who are dear to me, but far away. It makes banking, business and shopping easier. It’s an excellent educational tool. Tutorial videos have saved me money on cleaning and small repairs. It’s provided me with ideas for crafts and recipes and party games. And, yes, I can use it as a platform to say whatever I want. But I sometimes wonder if I might be a better human being with a better life without it ….