A few years ago a friend of mine—a world-famous musician who is one of the most talented lights in his generation—was giving an interview when he said, “Turn off the television and live.”
I have begun to take the same approach to the internet: “Turn off the computer and live.” From blogs to news sites to Facebook, the internet offers so much distraction, so much virtual straw. I saw a t-shirt not long ago which said, “No one cares about your blog.” That is certainly the case with this blog, though it must hastily be added that going six weeks without a new post isn’t exactly the way to drive traffic.
Ah, yes. Driving traffic. This seems to be the goal of so many blogs, and they’ll say anything to do it. I can think of one particular blog which lauds everyone from Murray Rothbard to Rand Paul (who is about as libertarian as Attila the Hun), and one wonders if this isn’t an attempt to widen the “customer base.” Well, no one cares about my blog, and that’s just fine. And I don’t care about traffic. If what I have to say brings traffic, so be it, and if not, pound sand. Live and let live.
The other temptation of blogging is to publish immediately—something which I am admittedly about to do with this post, because I don’t have all afternoon to spend on this crap. In this situation all kinds of stupid things are said, and God knows I’ve said them. The comment feature only makes things worse, and I can’t help but think that maybe the whole milieu promotes a smug self-righteousness with everyone, especially since we’re arguing with “handles” and not with people, kind of like the way aggressive drivers thrive on their anonymity.
News sites increasingly try to look like blogs. There are few places left anymore where you can just read the damn news and get on with your day. Too many opinion pieces, too few in-depth pieces. Of course I don’t believe in un-biased reporting. Our frail human knowledge requires us to interpret the facts around us to the best of our ability to paint a picture; this means that everyone will be somehow “slanted,” and this doesn’t bother me. But the news has become something else entirely: caterwauling. It’s impossible to read the news these days without taking blood pressure medication first.
Then there’s Facebook, which I’ve come to believe is a cry for help for many people. They’re lonely, and they hop onto their computer to communicate with faraway friends in a very unsatisfying way, and to do it they sacrifice the time needed to get out and make new real-life friends. Facebook can also be the location of very intense debates about subjects that probably shouldn’t be discussed in polite company. Again: I plead guilty, though my friends will notice a recent change in my approach. Many people on Facebook also spend hours on a game called Farmville, and the time and productivity wasted must surely be staggering.
In short, the internet seems to be a giant version of Mom’s refrigerator, where everyone goes to say, “Hey, look at me!” “Look at what I drew in school today!” And it’s all pretend. As George Carlin said, “It’s bullshit, and it’s bad for ‘ya.”
Yet for all the use of these electronic devices to debate people or to promote our own self-images, the art of real conversation seems to have fallen apart. How many of us have sat at a dinner table where the “conversation” is a string of timid, unrelated statements, not unlike the way Hank Hill and his neighbors stand in the yard and take turns saying, “Yyyyyup”? There seems to be little communion in life, and maybe it’s because we don’t cultivate the affection and love which is necessary for real human interaction. Intelligence is not enough. I, who sometimes resemble Ethan Brandt a little more than anyone should, am still learning this lesson.
But this is where I start: By turning off the computer and living, by being with people and not their Facebook profiles, by going into the woods and sucking all the marrow out of life (with apologies to Thoreau), rather than by staring at artificial blue light all day long. (There will still be the occasional blog post, though, I suppose.)
I wonder how long I’ll last with this new endeavor.