Thursday, June 19, 2008

The Internet vs. the World of Tomorrow

Image: Teaching a Machine to Think, from the NYPL Digital Images Gallery. An old cigarette card, from the Age of Power and Wonder series. i.e. my favorite series of cigarette cards ever made.

For the past two weeks - almost three, now - I've been in what can only be described as Internet Detox. Early on, I decided to think of it as Internet Detox rather than Not Having Internet at my New Apartment. For the most part, this formulation has been successful: I have surely seen more of Seattle (my new, extremely temporary home) than I would have otherwise. I have also probably gotten more sleep. But when I found myself slipping out to the outdoor corridor at my apartment complex - on a nightly basis - to stand, vaguely, in the one area where I could catch an unlocked wireless signal: that is when I realized that it was time for Detox to end.
With that: I missed you, internet. I'm glad to be back.

(Note that I actually still do not have internet at my apartment. But, I mean. This has gone on long enough.)

I'm now firmly situated in Seattle metropolitan area, getting used to freeways and plenty of mist. I found some wonderful corners of town; I lost my camera. "Losing" and "finding" tend to travel together, have you ever noticed? But it's good, it's all a part of starting something new. And this: this is definitely new.

Before I forget, here are some things I noticed from the dark days of Internet Detox:

1) They were not so dark. Yes, it was incredibly weird not to be plugged in all day long. It was definitely strange to be without an ambient ocean of information to swim in - or, as my new friend Tantek wrote earlier today regarding Twitter, the constant presence of "asynchronous ambient intimacy." But the quiet was not so jarring, except on weekends. I think this is because the life of a desk worker is full of opportunities to dip into this stream and then quickly dip back out again. Unfortunately, few opportunites to immerse myself.

2) Everyone is on the internet all day long, every day. This is obvious, but it's also true. Even just 12 hours away from a computer - let alone 24 - left me feeling hopelessly behind. The upside of being hopelessly behind, though, was having lots of interesting things to catch up on. Never in my life - my recent life, at least - have I gone without checking email for long enough to accumulate a pile of such interesting, engaging, beautiful letters from people I like very much. Surprises, too - like the email from a former editor of a magazine about magic, regarding my paper on amateur magicians. Which leads me to the next thing I noticed...

3) Email. We are back in the 19th century, people. I've spent so much time over the past year just answering emails all day long (and loving it), I never managed to take a step back and realize what I was really doing. Have you ever seen a movie based on a Jane Austen novel? You know how the characters in all their beautiful clothes are forever sitting at writing desks, spending hours upon hours writing letters on paper? How romantic and frivolous. Right? Well, yes, sort of right, but: we do that, too. Now. All day every day. Email, as has been pointed out, is a totally inefficient and arcane system. This has led people like Tantek to suggest that it should be permanently renamed "EFAIL." I see the reasoning. I even understand it. Here's the thing, though: that's kind of why I like email. I like that we're all sitting around, writing letters to each other all day long, pondering which sign-off to use and slipping in clever salutations. My short-lived once-a-day email checking during the first part of Interent Detox really drove the point home, since it felt very much like receiving mail in a physical mailbox. (I used to wait at the window for the mailman to come, when I lived back in Ann Arbor...even though the mail was almost entirely catalogs and credit card offers. Every day.)

This is the 19th century. But you all know how I feel about the 19th century. It has not a little to do with love.

And now I'm back, and now it's tomorrow.


Mike said...

Now I have a wonderful image of Mr. Darcy, complete with waistcoat and attitude, frustratedly writing and rewriting the perfect email to convey his feelings, IM status set to "away." Thank you.

Xu said...

I wish so desperately that I could be internet detoxing right now! But alas, like a prolific female correspondent from the 19th century, I'm trapped at home with nothing to do except communicate with others to find out what is going on outside. It's insufferable. I need smelling salts.

What I meant to say is: you don't have to be worried that you'll get too caught up in email writing and internetting now that detox is over. I'm sure Seattle is exciting enough to pull you away from your laptop, thus enhancing both your analog and digital lives.

Stacey said...

Wait, wait, wait... we don't have internet?! I just spent the last two weeks detoxing in Costa Rica! (well, kinda. My hosts had internet. And there's internet in the airport...)

Anyway, we should get internet. Internet is good. I like internet. We'll just make ourselves not spend every moment on it... right...