Life On The Internet
By Talia Ralph
I spend my days on the internet, though “on” doesn’t strike me as the best preposition to link myself up to the nebulous depths of the web. I live in it, maybe. Or up against it, eyeballs pressed to pixels. A little too close, maybe, but nothing life-threatening.
I know what’s going on in the world, or at least sort of. I know the headlines and the facts, the shootings and the first-place finishes. I know other people who live online: A friend in Pakistan who I’ve only met in chat windows; the guy who writes funny things about the Olympics for Bleacher Report. They know things too. I feel them breathing against the glass, hear their whispered snippets and spin them back through my own keyboard. We’re all looking into a different window of the same house, watching the same family have dinner, and yet we yell out to each other about it, around its corners or from its second floor, like its something one of us might have missed. We spend days on couches or at desks looking into (or out at?) a universe, still and stationary in our own. Noses pressed to the screens, wondering how the green beans taste.
There was a month, once, where I didn’t spend most of my waking life online. I scaled my full-time web writing job down to part-time, and drove my car across North America. And in that brief period, the internet changed for me. It wasn’t scratching against my neck like a wool turtleneck sweater I couldn’t pull off; it wasn’t the same old view, the repetitive cycle. No, the Internet became like coming across a cold, clear stream after a long walk in the desert. It was something to splash my face with and sip, to refresh myself, just as much as I needed. The internet had things to show me that month. People had come and left notes I wanted to read, written stories I wanted to know. The first-place finishes and shootings regained their breathtaking quality, their terror, their thrill. The web became the dinner table, and I was invited in to sit around it and eat, talk, participate.
Sure, I missed things. I didn’t know exactly who was dying where, or what someone thought about a restaurant, or who needed my attention. I was more offline than I’d been in a year. I watched local news while drinking beer as my computer lay tucked away in its case and let the funny Montana newscasters tell me what they thought I should know. I watched herds and herds of bison blur by. I saw a sprawling thunderstorm unfurl about 20 miles to my left, jagged bolts of lightening taking up half of the entire sky.
What if we were all only allowed to be “on” (in, up against) the internet for a small amount of time? And the rest of our lives, we just had to look at other stuff? What if we had to ask people what that firetruck was doing there on the corner, instead of googling the intersection it was stopped at? What if we just had to wander the side streets until we found somewhere that looked good for breakfast? Could I make a choice about what I actually wanted to know, and how I really wanted to say what I mean?
I don’t know that I could. After all, in my real life, I live on the internet.
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Try something today. Count how many times someone brings up some sort of mental illness in normal conversation. Add that number up and tell me it doesn’t strike you as kind of weird how many normal people walk around with the belief that there is something wrong with them.
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