Confusion Corner: Concerned with connectivity

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January 29, 2010

1:31 AM

If there’s a journalistic trope I hate most, it’s the obligatory “Are we spending too much time online?” story. It’s the sort of thing that seems masturbatory at best, pure fluff — not to mention mind-boggling when viewed via the online-edition.

Now, that being said, I do spend entirely too much time on the web — by which I mean not just the internet, but also on the Twitter-face-text-sexting sorts of sites. But so, as it turns out, do you. According to the New York Times’s newest fluff piece, kids ages eight to 18 spend nearly every minute outside the classroom — which they are only in for seven and a half hours each day — on some sort of electronic device. We can assume that tendency doesn’t immediately evaporate when entering college, so consider yourself chastised. The article includes all the basic assumptions: Web-surfing, smart phone using or general electronic media consuming means that you’re wasting your time with mindless drivel, all while alienating yourself from the world around you.

This all may be true, of course, but the sentiment can’t help but seem a bit reductionist. See, for example, the New York Times’s accompanying slew of assenting letters to the editor on the subject — almost all school teachers complaining how those darned kids won’t stop texting in my class! Disproportionate anger about texting is like the schoolmarm’s manna — they seem to draw a sort of sustenance from it.

This sort of knee-jerk reactionism ignores the other half of the modern, and hypocritical, view of web-use. It’s both reviled as the harbinger of triviality and electronic reliance (our kids are too wired), while still celebrated as a marvel of convenience and productivity (Oh look, the iPad). Professors play the same game. On one hand, they’ll chastise an entire class for being overly connected — always on Facebook, they say. But should that professor send an e-mail the night before, or even just the hour before, his or her own class, it’s assumed the information must be received, internalized, and at times reacted to with immediacy.
We are apparently simultaneously too connected and never connected enough.

But seriously, screw all of that. No matter anyone else’s opinion, I refuse to view the internet with anything but sheer wonder. The other day, I found a documentary online about a former Liberian warlord named General Butt Naked (seriously), who as little as 10 years ago, led a group of entirely naked, cannibalistic raiders. He’s now a Christian preacher in that same community. My mind was — and is — blown. I could not have even imagined that our world contained a person who one minute was describing from memory cutting out a person’s heart and serving it to the children crowded around him, and the next is quoting scripture to a congregation. That’s why the internet is amazing. Not in the that’s-so-cool sense, but in that the sheer amount of information, of experience, at your fingertips — the likes of which you might never have otherwise seen — continues to be awe-inspiring. That may seem hyperbolic, but it takes only the digitized sight of a God-fearing ex-cannibal to make you realize how sheltered enclosed an experience you sometimes have. It seems perfectly logical, then, to see any unplugged existence as boring in comparison.

Now, did I also spend some of that time watching Youtube videos of a fat, Finnish man bouncing on a trampoline? Yes. Yes, I did. Conveniently enough, they were both on one website, Viceland.com. (Seriously, go to it. Their video journalism is fantastic, and I’m not just talking about the Finnish dude.)

Does this expanded, HD-enhanced experience imply that we’re better off? Does our connectedness help break us out of our own enclosed, limited surroundings, or are we in fact losing focus amidst an inundation of information we can never even hope to process? I have no earthly idea. Not that it matters anyway. I have no plans to log off anytime soon.

__Kevin Mooney is the Flat Hat Confusion Corner columnist. He encourages you to continue to stumble and Sporcle your way across the wide world of the internet.__

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