I work from home, and it is steadily driving me mad.
As a freelance writer, I have the luxury of working nude when I so choose as well as shaving when it is convenient. However, I also have to fight for every job I get because writers are a dime a dozen to the dozenth power, and many of them will work for a buck and a byline.
But I have, after a year or so of scrapping and scraping, eked out a tenuous career writing both publicly and anonymously for news publications, lifestyle magazines, marketing companies, dirty comic books, and more. Not only have I read a lot of the Internet, I have also written a lot of it, too.
But because I “followed my dream” and am “my own boss” and “do what I love every day of my life,” it is easy to get sucked into the swirling eddies of chaotic content that have brought you to me now. And if you are among the target demographic that I write for—namely, the generation known as Millennials, my own generation—I would like to share a thought I’ve had:
We are not a generation of thinkers.
To Be or U wot m8?
This is not to say that my generation does not think. Instead, I mean that while my generation thinks, it is not now a generation of thinkers. History will not look back on Millennials as it does the Cynics, the Renaissance humanists, the followers of the Enlightenment, or even the Yippies, because we are primarily consumer-commentators.
This may seem to discount the explosion of creators the Internet has enabled, but I contend that this explosion has been focused on entertainment, not enlightenment. There are a thousand libraries’ worth of classical and contemporary thought available in online archives, but as of September 2014, the 15 most trafficked websites (discounting search engines) are: YouTube, Facebook, Amazon, Wikipedia, Twitter, eBay and Pinterest.
Plagued by all the temptations of working and writing from home, I often wonder what would have become of Shakespeare if he had access to the cornucopia of entertainment that we do. Assailed daily by the ecstasies of instant gratification, cat memes, mobile apps, viral videos, top 10 lists, pirate software, Pandora, Netflix, Craigslist, and, yes, internet pornography, would dear William ever have gotten around to asking if this was a dagger he saw before him?
The presence of Amazon, Wikipedia, and eBay on the above list could indicate a collective desire to track down obscure literature and philosophy, but reading is not tantamount to thinking. It’s a very good start, but it is a passive and not an active process. Have you ever spent an entire day surfing the Internet and felt productive when you finally turned it off?
Comparing Millennials to previous generations is unfair, I know. But I believe fairness is the province of doting parents, not the world we live in. This is my argument and I encourage you to argue against me. I am eager to know what you think.
The existence of the Internet is not a valid argument for serious thought. When television was introduced, it held the same promises and pitfalls that the Internet does.
Wow. Much Wasteland. No Better. TL;DR
In 1961, Chairman of the Federal Communications Commission Newton N. Minnow delivered what became known as “the wasteland speech” to the National Association of Broadcasters. He said,
When television is good, nothing—not the theater, not the magazines or newspapers—nothing is better.
But when television is bad, nothing is worse. I invite each of you to sit down in front of your own television set when your station goes on the air and stay there, for a day… Keep your eyes glued to that set until the station signs off. I can assure you that what you will observe is a vast wasteland.
You will see a procession of game shows, formula comedies about totally unbelievable families, blood and thunder, mayhem, violence, sadism, murder, western bad men, western good men, private eyes, gangsters, more violence, and cartoons. And endlessly commercials — many screaming, cajoling, and offending. And most of all, boredom. True, you’ll see a few things you will enjoy. But they will be very, very few. And if you think I exaggerate, I only ask you to try it.”
The Internet of today is rapidly transforming into the television of yesterday. Much more rapidly now since companies figured out search engine optimization—creating content for content’s sake, populating pages with listicles, and offering totally unbelievable headlines about mayhem, violence, sex, sadism, ’90s cartoons and other such classics from the Huffington Post.
U Mad, Bro?
The mobile phone in your pocket can get you email, entertainment, and texts literally at the touch of a button. When such applications are necessary, nothing is better.
But you have also walked into a cafe or a subway or a classroom or a bar and seen several people with their heads down staring into their little virtual worlds. You have nearly been jostled on the street by someone walking with their earbuds in.
On the positive side, none of us will ever look like we have nothing to do again. But if one day we look up and wonder why we don’t like the world around us, the answer is because we have not participated in shaping it.
My generation only inhabits this world. We have not built it and we are too Balkanized to deconstruct it. We’re very good at complaining about it, and we think that because previous generations’ complaints were not posted on Reddit or social media that we have invented a new form of activism when we attach our names to a hashtag.
But when you really think about it, all we’ve done is preserve our discontent in digital amber.
In a video game, you’re guided along set paths and rewarded for completing predetermined objectives. It’s very satisfying and very isolating, even when played online. In the same way, by binge-watching whole seasons of television, by getting caught up in wiki-walks, by buying into the “I’m-past-the-age-of-eighteen-but-I-don’t-consider-myself-an-adult” nonsense, we are allowing more of our lives to be fed vicariously to us.
That’s what I think, anyway.