2011-07-16 Unease online

Over the recent weeks and months, the web has started to fill me with slight unease.

The web, you ask? Yes. I spend a lot of my free time reading and replying to email, skimming Facebook, diligently reading Twitter news, reading blog posts in my feed reader, chatting with people, playing a silly ogame variant – all of it on a tablet computer that just lies around. I don’t read as many books as I used to, these days. I spend some time on the web catching up after I get up. I spend some time on the web before falling asleep. When I eat by myself, I spend some time on the web.

Increasingly, I feel as if the great hypnotoad of the web is wasting my time. Michael Ende’s Grey Men are smoking my time. Time wasted reminds me of TV.

When I discovered the Internet, it promised an anarchic freedom away from the corporations. When I discovered social networks, they promised one-on-one communication with real people, friends and family. I had filters. I had ad blockers. Slowly, however, things have changed. The social networking platforms are in the hands of big corporations financed by ads. They are inescapable.

What we could make for ourselves by learning how to run GNU/Linux we now have to defend in court: net neutrality, software patents. The lure is gone, the promise I imagined has been broken.

On Twitter and the blogs, I had started subscribing to people that worked for companies producing products I enjoyed. As I look at my overflowing bookshelf, I realize that their marketing promise of B2C marketing worked. Blogs and Facebook accounts filled with personal trivia and product hype had enthralled me.

In fact, my unease is the very same unease I felt when I was 20 and realized that the TV was smoking my time. I lost hours watching stuff I could barely remember after a day or two and filled me with longing for products as useless as bicycles for fish. Back then, I was at the receiving end of demand creation. And now I’m realizing that disconnecting the TV from the network is not enough. I am again at the receiving end of demand creation. The ads have been replaced by Twitter and Facebook accounts that love the products I love myself. The benevolent reviews laud the very things I love. Their comments on movie trailers reflect my own taste. And when I manage to turn the table off, I feel a vague emptiness inside.

I feel empty because I am reading stuff I will barely remember after a day or two and I am filled with longing for more products than I can use, read, watch or play until the day I die.

As a first measure, I have started unsubscribing from all the feeds and accounts that obviously connected with demand creation.



The worthwhile promises of the internet were crafted with love, or passion, or anger; by geeks, and nerds, by mad people, by people with crazy ideas, people who wanted to share stuff and ideas for no reason except that they could. They built a web of dreams with cosy corners, unexplored darknesses, odd little turnings, delighted poetry to find and marvel at.

Then the stampeding herd came, with 1,000,000 corporations flying overhead in helicopters and nets, looking for the place to catch the best cash, the places to fish for the the best loot.

The babling mountain stream isn’t quite the same after the herd runs through it, and a dozen industry execs have worked out how to extract every dollar out of it.

To paraphrase, I doubt many of our generation will lie on our deathbeds and say “I wish I spent more time surfing the internet.”

I should go learn to surf instead, anyone know a good site by by beginner kit?

Seriously though, I stopped using Facebook, Friends Reunited, linked-in, I dropped the links to all the news sites that just waste my time... working up to deleting my Slashdot account... I stopped watching movies designed to make time pass, I want movies that make me think, or make me go WOW - I’ll let you know when I find one...

And yet here I am on Google +

Three positive things though,

I bought a Kindle stuffed it full of books I wanted to read, and take it everywhere - I have read more books in the last two months than the previous two years, and I have not felt I had to especially make time to do so.

I resolved to finish the book I’d been planning to write for 10 years, and did so, working on the prequel now

I bought a big telescope, and plan to use it. Now there’s a hobby that takes me away from the internet.

– James Moffatt, 2011-07-21

You bought a big telescope!? You are so awesome I want to play Pathfinder in Basel until night fall and check out the solar system. :)

Also, very poetic comment. Loved it.

– Alex Schroeder, 2011-07-21

You inspired me to write with your post :P

You’d be welcome any time, but maybe I should also host a starry night party?

It arrives next week... v.excited. I understand that Jupiter’s red spot is visible with it, the rings of Saturn of course, plus loads of the moons of both. Mars is good for the major craters, and the Moon should be quite a sight.

I hope to see lots of nebula as well, though they will be black and white of course.

I am not sure if I am cheating by buying a “goto” telescope, you tell it what you want to see, and it finds it for you, kind of like cheating I think, but I got it anyway

– James Moffatt, 2011-07-21

Please make sure you contribute only your own work, or work licensed under the GNU Free Documentation License. Note: in order to facilitate peer review and fight vandalism, we will store your IP number for a number of days. See Privacy Policy for more information. See Info for text formatting rules. You can edit the comment page if you need to fix typos. You can subscribe to new comments by email without leaving a comment.

To save this page you must answer this question:

Please say HELLO.