Tuesday, August 25, 2009


Am I the only one out there who feels almost completely overwhelmed by the onslaught of the Internet in the past five, ten years?

It's not like I'm old -- I'm 33, which is, you know, old, but it's not old old, if you know what I mean -- and the Internet has been part of my life for the past, what, ten, twelve years or so, and yet I still feel increasingly like the old fogey who comes late to the party empty-handed and is not quite sure what everybody else is so heatedly discussing in the corner on the couch, drinks in hand, plates already full.

My roommate in university in the fall of '94 was the first person I ever saw using email, and I literally asked him: "What's that? Are you, like, writing your friend a letter? You're going to print it out, right?"

Ever since then, it's been all downhill.

Meaning, I can't keep up. No sooner had I found out that Twitter was the cool new thing, the next thing I know, literally the next week, I'm reading an article in Time or Newsweek or somewhere that Twitter is actually becoming somewhat old hat. What the fuck? I'd just discovered it, and it's already considered old news? What else is out there that I have yet to discover, and yet has already become obsolete?

What scares me is the rate of acceleration with this baby. I've often told students that vocabulary that is now a given in the English language -- email, the internet, surfing the web, blogs, links -- literally had no meaning in a computer context when I was in high school. And some of this shit is only two, three years old, and the language has alread adapted it into the linguistic family which we all distort, corrupt and enlighten on a daily basis.

Not that I'm against all of this development. Of course not. There's only way to go in life, and that's up, baby, up. Forward. Onward. I just keep thinking: My grandfather was my age in 1953. When television was just getting groovy. And think of all that's happened since then. What do the next forty, fifty years have in store? I imagine video email is the next big thing, but I already suspect that it's already here. Somewhere. With somebody cooler, hipper and 'more connected' than I am.

Perhaps that's the thing. All this connecting is actually making me feel unconnected. It's like Norman Mailer said all these years ago, when discussing the snarky, snide, increasingly acerbic tone of sportswriters, who are 'faced with the burden of being clever'.

I think about that phrase all the time -- 'the burden of being clever'. Meaning, when you write in small, encapsulated doses, everything has to be funny, and sarcastic, and insincere, and strange, and offbeat, and oh-so-very-clever. Longer writing -- like short stories and novels, essays and even editorials -- allow you to develop your ideas slowly, carefully, methodically. They are often humourous, yes, of course, but they also, invariably, have at least the potential of being deep. Of touching us and moving us through sustained rhythms of language and emotion. We have the chance to delve deep and see if we can find something of ourselves at the end of it all. Browsing the Internet, I become exhausted, mentally and spiritually, and I find myself, at the end of five, ten years, facing an extreme case of cyber malnourishment, for lack of a better term. Will this be a permanent psychic condition, I wonder.

I fear (and this is the old fogey part of the 33 year old speaking up) that everything is becoming linked and connected and emailed and commented upon, and that, at the same time, so little is being said. We're so busy blabbing that we're not really listening, and we're all continuously trying to be very, very clever, without trying all that hard to be very, very sincere.

Ah, well. As I said earlier, there's no going back. And yet perhaps a happy medium can be found. I want the web to feel like my hometown library did, for some strange reason I can't quite articulate. I want a place where I can sit down and block out the world and browse through the shelves and grasp randomly at something unknown, but possibly perfect. Or at least perfect for that moment, when I need something the most.

Back then, in that library, between those long rows of metal shelves, I never knew what I needed until I found it. When I did, it was a cold glass of water shutting out the sun. I could drink and drink and drink until closing time. Coming back, the next day, I found I was still not full.