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Video Killed The Radio Star, But The Internet Killed Pretty Much Everything Else

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Video may have killed the radio star, but the internet killed, well, pretty much everything else.

I am not a technological Luddite by any means. I am supremely grateful for DC Cupcakes and Say Yes to the Dress, for the guilty-pleasure Katy Perry tunes on my iPod, and for the sociocultural phenomenon that is YouTube.  I will defend to the death the situation comedy as social commentary, consider it a global crisis when Facebook is down for ten minutes, and I sent and received at least 160 text messages last night alone.

That being said, sometimes I wonder what life was like for those of previous generations, before modern technology transformed doing nothing from a weekend pastime into a way of life. Having entered the scene smack-dab in the middle of Generation Y (born in 1985), I do vaguely remember a time before the internet (we first got AOL, dial-up of course, when I was 11).It was a simpler time. I played outside with real, live friends — hide-and-seek, T-ball, Capture the Flag. I remember playing a lot of Operation, Battleship, Twister, Taboo, Balderdash, and Trivial Pursuit. I seem to remember reading books (and I mean real books printed on real paper, damn-you-to-hell-Kindle). Lest I wax too nostalgic, let me hasten to add that it’s not exactly as if I was walking uphill to school in the snow both ways in in the early ‘90s — there was still Oregon Trail, of course, and a little something called Super Mario Bros. on NES, and I definitely planted my little hiney in front of Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles and Inspector Gadget every single damn afternoon. I even seem to recall my dad, engineering nerd that he is, trying to teach me to program in BASIC on our old Commodore 64 when I was about eight.

But I do remember, before my introduction to the Web in 1996, spending more time throughout the day interacting with real people and participating in real creative endeavors. Don’t get me wrong, I have always been a dynamic personality who could interact with and befriend the dead — but in 2011, having 1200 Facebook friends enables me to give just a perfunctory nod to each of them on a semi-regular basis without having to sustain any meaningful adult relationships. Similarly, I have always been a writer — but what does it say about me that my output from 1992-1996 was vastly more prolific than any body of work I’ve produced since — including when I was in graduate school studying English literature?

Perhaps I’m just looking for a smoking gun, but I blame the internet.

Sure, if you wanted to be an expert in useless trivia as a kid you could always go to the library and check out armfuls of books on the Titanic or the Battle of Gettysburg or the Salem Witch Trials or whatever it was that happened to catch your fancy. But it took a sustained, concerted effort to plumb the depths of the Dewey Decimal System, usually an encounter with a mean librarian or two, and the likelihood was high that you would stick with your given obsession for at least a week or so.

Not so today. I’ve been on medical leave since early March, so I am painfully, acutely aware of how much time playing on the internet saps out of my day and how little profit I actually derive from this wasted time. This isn’t primarily because there is nothing of interest on the internet, but rather because there is too much of interest on the Internet. “The internet,” Eric Schmidt opined, “is the first thing that humanity has built that humanity doesn’t understand, the largest experiment in anarchy that we have ever had.”

Personally, I can’t even trace the linear connection between one topic of interest and the next in my Web ramblings, but I do know that in the last week, I have read about depictions of McCarthyism in the American theatre, the lives of Shel Silverstein and John Nash, the criminal trials of Andrea Yates and Marie Noe, the filmography of the guy who played Billy Bibbit in One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest, the dating history of Matthew Perry (Chandler on Friends), and common tropes used in 1990s sitcoms. A search through my browsing history reveals that I have Googled the following in just the last 24 hours: Higgs Boson, Stephen King’s The Body, Romper Room, Alec Guinness gay?, Nurse Ratched, An Officer and a Gentleman, Gabriel Garcia Marquez short stories, Girl Interrupted, “Bill Mumy kid from Twilight Zone,” Mary Jo Kopechne, “Demi Lovato and Wilmer Valderrama breakup.”  There is simply no rhyme or reason to this erratic lineup — it reads like it was compiled by either a serial killer or an ADD schizophrenic on meth. All my spastic browsing serves to provide me with is a deceptively superficial amount of information about a wide smattering of subjects, which may serve me well in getting phone numbers, but “Mary Jo Kopechne Enthusiast and World-Renowned Expert on Sir Alec Guinness’s Sexual Orientation” is not necessarily what I want engraved on my gravestone.

“Dost Thou Love life? Then Do Not Squander Time, for That is the Stuff Life is Made Of,” Ben Franklin once observed (and a quick IMDB search will reveal that it’s also written on the gate of the plantation Twelve Oaks in 1939?s Gone With the Wind).  At what cost have I obtained all this cocktail-party pseudo-wisdom? (And even that designator is generous, since much of what I do online — *cough* watching deleted scenes from no longer syndicated TV shows and horror-movie remixes of romantic comedies on YouTube *cough*- does not even qualify as pseudo-wisdom.) When I was 10 years old, I used to have long discussions about moral theology and Charlotte Bronte with my friends. Fifteen years later, I have long discussions about… Cracked.com? Retrograde motion, indeed. It seems to belie the truth of evolution of the species.

Many have recently lamented the death of literature, the fact that there has not been a “great” American novelist since Hemingway (or since Steinbeck and Kerouac, if you’re feeling generous). The fact that Stephanie Meyer is the best we have to offer an entire generation is as deplorable as it is sickening. But while literary critics have scratched their heads about this phenomenon to no avail, I should think the answer was pretty mind-blowingly obvious:

The people gifted with the passion, talent, imagination, drive, and attention-span to create world-shaping art are now spending their days watching reruns of Diff’rent Strokes on YouTube.

People like me and you. Sad, isn’t it? TC mark

image – Shutterstock

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    • Pippirollgardina

      So true… so sad. I notice the same thing with me. I used to write and paint a lot. Nooow I “stumble upon” thousends of amazing sides suggesting some craft projects etc. and I just can’t stop looking for new ones, because there are still so many amazing ideas out there I might miss if didn’t look further….  :/ 

    • Anonymous

      I think it’s easy to hate the internet–or at least resent it in some way–especially when you are, as you say, on sick leave for a while and relegated to doing a whole lot of nothing on it. But it’s funny, because there’s a certain irony in lamenting how inundated with options we all are, each less fulfilling and inspiring than the last, when we are using this very medium to express this concept and communicate it to one another. 

      I am a writer, as you are, and most of my work is freelance. My father, also, is a freelancer–albeit an illustrator, mostly political cartoons. When he talks about getting started in the late 80s and early 90s, around the time I was born and just a few short years before he’d get his first computer, his search for new clients consisted of walking around in the Florida heat, literally going door-to-door carrying his portfolio, putting it under people’s noses and hoping that someone would bite. Getting his first clients, getting his name out there, was rolling an enormous rock up a giant hill. When he sees the ease with which I can speak to clients, possibly land new ones, communicate with readers, editors, and other writers–as well as scoop up new information on anything I choose for any project I’m working on, he admits that he is jealous in some way. Of course, the internet has greatly expanded his own business and he uses it to its fullest, but he would certainly have appreciated the head start.

      The internet is what we make of it, in all honesty. We choose how we want to use it, where we want to focus our energy, and what we get out of it. And though, yes, people like Stephanie Meyer make millions, think of the endless list of writers and creators whose work you can read at any time because we have such easy access, and they are able to get their work out there in some form or another. We have more options, and thus more of a need to be discerning, but I don’t particularly think it’s a bad thing.

      This piece is interesting, and most certainly makes me think (and write a TL;DR comment), but the fact that you were able to publish it for all of us to read with relative ease (compared to just a decade or so ago) is a testament to the wonders the internet has brought us.

    • Ikeaneverlies

      You do realize that “Luddite” does not mean someone who is against pop-culture, right? It’s frustrating to read an article that claims to make some sweeping proclamations about the digital/technological age and realize – from the first sentence – that the author doesn’t know what the hell they’re talking about.

      • Guest

        pretty sure she was saying she’s not a luddite because she’s grateful for all the glorious things technology has brought her… dc cupcakes, say yes to the dress, katy perry, and so on

    • Guest

      you do realize that it’s your choice to waste time on the internet “watching reruns of diff’rent strokes on youtube,” don’t you? you realize the internet isn’t forcing you to do anything, yes? the internet doesn’t sap time out of your day, YOU DO.
      “what does it say about me that my output from 1992-1996 was vastly more prolific than any body of work I’ve produced since… I blame the internet.” no no no, haha, no. that’s on you. I realize I’m pointing out the obvious, but for christssake stop whining. this argument is so tired that pointing out that it’s tired is tiring. at least other essays on the subject had some research behind them.
      and your belief that literature is “dead” because  there haven’t been any greats since “Hemingway (or since Steineck and Kerouac, if you’re feeling generous” is as ignorant “as it is sickening.” and “stephanie meyer is the best we have to offer”…what? no, she’s not? so, what? what’s your point, even? ooooh, that this is all because all the would-be productive and creative people (like you!) are wasting their time on the internet. well, that’s not true either.also, “When I was 10 years old, I used to have long discussions about moral theology and Charlotte Bronte with my friends,” CLAP CLAP CLAP

      • Guest

        Whoa…

      • JEReich

        But how much time did writing that post take out of your day, for the sheer purpose of seemingly misdirected anger?  Are you really that angry about the personal habits of someone you’ve never met?

        • Guest

          a few minutes, give or take. and is that relevant? i’m not the one complaining about how the internet is responsible for so much time-wasting. yes, this was overly angry, i really apologize. i’m just so sick of this subject. it gets us nowhere.

        • JEReich

          Understandable that you’re sick of the subject.  From a personal perspective, sometimes what is meant to be a helpful, valuable component of the internet hinders us.  For instance, I’m working on a novel right now that is set in London during the early 1970’s.  Because I can’t afford a ticket to England, I utilize the internet for a lot of my research methods: e-mailing professors of various institutions, looking at maps of the area via Google images, getting cursory information for historical context, and so forth.  However, because there is so much information via the web, I end up wasting more time researching things that I won’t actually use in the long run.  I end up wasting time on a venture that, at its inception, was supposed to be beneficial.

    • Anonymous

      I think you exemplify what we all know about the internet; it can be harnessed for so much – both positive and negative. Like anything in life – it’s how you use it.

      Also – great icebreaker. Pull up someone’s iPhone and ask them what the last 5 things they google searched for was. It can be really fun (the searches you listed) or really awkward (“why does my pee sting?” “best animal porn sites”, etc.).

    • ZoeSS

      This kind of made me hate myself- More than usual that is.

    • space mtn

      billy bibbit was the creepy guy in lotr 2 & 3 with no eyebrows. he’s so cool

    • Florabella7

       Ha!
      Well put. This reminds me… in high school… I’d smoke a little…
      and go to the HSU library for the afternoon, to browse. If we had a
      paper assigned… I’d go to the HSU library… and scan the isles
      formulating a thesis. I’d read a little on all the areas of my
      interests… It was there, working on a chemistry paper I never finished, that I became briefly fascinated by the laws of thermodynamics
      and the quest for absolute zero. I’d humor one of the most awesome
      teachers I ever had, Mr. Peters the chemistry guru, with all of my
      epiphanies about how important thermodynamics was to the fabric of the
      universe and my questions as to what could possibly happen if absolute
      zero was reached. This is where the pot always took me in
      another direction… dreaming up things like… just as you drop a seed
      into a beaker of saline solution to magically begin a crystalline
      process, absolute zero when reached would create a chain reaction
      spreading across existence, stopping every atom… and it would be the
      end of all things. Absolute stillness… It was pure fantasy from a
      uneducated mind. Back then they weren’t as close to absolute
      zero as they are now… Like Zeno’s Paradox (thanks be to the internet
      because I never would have recalled anything more then that his name
      started with a Z) in order to reach point B from point A one must first
      reach a halfway point, and in order to reach that point one must reach
      another half way point, and so on… and therefore one can never
      actually reach point B… Well, one can never actually reach absolute
      zero. They’re like millionths away from getting there, though it is
      illusive and will always be… But some little group of driven
      scientists are in some underground lab in the Swiss Alps super cooling
      gases, watching individual atoms slow wayyyyyy down… observing the
      very energy that makes the universe become so close to still… They
      probably forget to breath sometimes while watching… They probably
      dream about it day and night… Fascinated, obsessed. I like that.
      I never finished my paper, just as I hardly ever finished anything
      before I was off on some other mental adventure. The internet makes it
      fun sometimes to explore ideas, information… but… I do miss the
      library, real books with pages to turn… and maybe the time it took to
      search… and think.

    • http://twitter.com/tannnyaya Tanya Salyers

      It’s unfair to blame the internet.  As much time is wasted on it, it has benefits, too.  Staying in touch with friends and family, learning something new and how to do something for yourself, and opening social commentary on issues that affect us is just the tip of it.  I am a time-waster of great proportions, but I would do the same with TV or magazines or anything else.  Not having the internet does not mean that everyone would be more productive or go outside or be social IRL.  At least people are learning things. 

    • Sama

      I was born in 1995 and I would have loved to have been born 20 or 30 years earlier, because I wonder what I would be doing with the hours and hours of time I spend on the Internet. 

    • Deirdree

      YES! To hell with Kindles and Stephanie Meyer.

    • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=1217597690 Mitch Lavender

      Wow am I old.

      Born before The Internet was easily accessible, I gravitated to the Compuservs and AOLs before either was connected to Teh Intrenets and it was a text-based version of what we can get visually now and not in a cerebral way.  We read more then… newspapers.  Because that was the best way to get news – 24-48 hours after it happened.  And we liked it.  We wished there was something better than the spattering of channels we got on TV and yes… we actually scheduled our lives around when a TV program came on because no one understood how to program a VCR.  You missed a show, too bad.  We rented a lot of video tapes and read a lot of books because it gave us some facimile of control, but it took 1-2 years for a movie to roll from theater to video, so it was all stale.  And we liked it.
      It wasn’t all bad though.  We had Atari.  We went to video arcades and pumped quarter after quarter (one at a time though – singular – it was when coin-op cost a single quarter) and we liked it.   

      Shorter answer: Don’t get nostalgic for something you never knew.  Lame has always been.  It just looks different now than it did before.  There are choices you can make and lame will always be one of them – if you chose it, well.

      And FWIW, I thought this was a pretty funny piece. 

    • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=1363230138 Michael Koh

      i think it’s more of the medicated population than the internet. of course, it’s also the readily available content from around the world. it’s enough to paralyze someone. 

    • http://www.nosexcity.com NoSexCity

      We’re close in age, but you aren’t saying anything that hasn’t been said a thousand times over. Had me then lost me; feel like you got too caught up in listing your nostalgic items instead of  fleshing out some kind of actual (possible) thesis with this.

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