Hello, my name is Heather Wilhelm, and I hate the Internet.
No, really! I do. Take heart, for I’m not completely delusional: I ruefully understand that I need the Internet. You are reading this on the Internet, after all, and I ply many of my writerly wares on this network of tubes.
Many excellent things come from the Internet, including photo-sharing, online shopping, sprees of consecutive pop-up windows advertising the pair of hiking boots you bought yesterday, and those late-night, panicked searches of WebMD that helpfully allow you to diagnose yourself with typhoid, sailor’s gout, or hantavirus pulmonary syndrome.
The Internet, it seems safe to assume, is not going away any time soon. But I hate it, and you should too.
Speaking of C.S. Lewis
Just this week, browsing through Twitter—and oh, believe you me, we’ll address the tangled ball of rabid sewer ferrets in squeaky, ferret-sized clown shoes that is Twitter soon enough—I saw a fantastic quote attributed to C.S. Lewis. Since we’re talking about the Internet, this quote could actually have come from one of Macho Man Randy Savage’s epic rants from “WrestleMania 1984,” which I watched religiously, but let’s go with it and assume the quote is from the wise old don of the Inklings himself.
Ha, just kidding. I’m not that lazy: I have Google! (FYI, lest you think this earns the tech giant a pat on the back, in Vanity Fair’s latest profile of Elon Musk, tech writer Ashlee Vance notes the following: “If evil A.I. lights up, it will light up first at Google.” Ahem.)
Anyway, here’s the quote, direct from “The Screwtape Letters”: “Picture hell as a state where everyone is perpetually concerned about his own dignity & advancement, where everyone has a grievance…” It was a bolt of lighting. It was instant clarity. The quote offered a sudden drift into a higher consciousness, for immediately, I knew what C.S. Lewis was talking about: THE INTERNET.
Some of you might argue that Lewis was not talking about the Internet, which did not exist in mid-century Oxford, and which, as noted above, can also serve as a largely useful tool where you can do things like order groceries or impulse-buy an oversized antler chandelier. (Guilty!)
Instead, you might argue, Lewis was talking about social media, which also did not exist in mid-century Oxford, and which serves as an entity that everyone claims to hate, even though they compulsively and voluntarily check it for at least 70 percent of each waking day.
To be fair, this argument is partly true. Okay, fine. For Twitter, it is 1 billion percent true.
C.S. Lewis Was Definitely Talking About Twitter
Let’s look at Twitter, shall we? Witness the pointless arguments between strangers, broadcast for the world to see! The humorless lurkers, offering factual corrections to fairly obvious jokes! The crazed pile-ons and spurts of public shaming! The strange common urge to comment and form a sudden opinion on every topic and person on earth! Those blessed moments in which every Twitter user suddenly morphs into an expert astrophysicist, master chef, or grizzled paleontologist, based entirely on the trending news of the day! The 6,507,509 outraged opinions (thus far) on the dining habits of Vice President Mike Pence!
Because Twitter is generally awful, and compelling and amusing at the same time, and because, like many media types, I am mildly addicted to it, I have vowed not to check it after 5 p.m. each day. However, because man is a fallen creature, I often fail at this task. So on Thursday, while innocently cooking dinner, I found myself answering the devilish voice on my left shoulder—imagine the voice of Pierce Brosnan, but evil—and checking Twitter.
BAM! From a world of quiet wine-sipping, magazine-flipping, and tranquil sauce-stirring, I was immediately transported into the grotty basement from “Fight Club.” The big, hot story was Mike Flynn, formerly of the Trump administration, shopping around for an immunity deal. Media Twitter was, as it tends to be, wound tighter than a tick, bouncing with rumors and frantic news swapping and a general sense of OMGOODNESS GUYS THIS IS IT OMGOODNESS ITS THE MOMENT WHEN TRUMP WILL GO DOWN.
Now, I’m old enough to remember the presidential campaign, when nearly every day there was an episode of OMGOODNESS GUYS THIS IS IT OMGOODNESS ITS THE MOMENT WHEN TRUMP WILL GO DOWN. These moments would inspire a mass insular Internet frenzy, and then, after a day or two or seven, sputter out and waft into the wind, leaving everyone involved wrung out like an old one-ply paper towel in a Popeye’s parking lot.
Over the course of these episodes, various people’s heads would explode. Others would simply age ten years. The pattern, alas, continues today. Perhaps one of these days things will be different—NO, REALLY, THIS IS IT, YOU DOOFUS—but I’m not about to bet an otherwise tranquil Thursday night on it.
He Was Also Definitely Tagging Facebook
Anyway, I switched off Twitter. Next, because I apparently like to learn things the hard way, I wandered over to Facebook, where I looked at some random vacation pictures and vaguely wondered why my old coworker’s fourth cousin hadn’t invited me on her fabulous girls trip to Tulum. Reminder: I could have been happily stirring my pasta sauce, living in the present, and reading Garden and Gun.
(By the way, I’m just kidding about Tulum, just in case you recently and coincidentally took a trip to Tulum and posted about it on Facebook. Please don’t feel guilty. I didn’t want to go anyway!)
So yes, social media has its problems. It has benefits—truly, it does, especially when used in moderation!—but multiple pitfalls as well. A new study from the University of Pittsburgh, for instance, shows that using social media for two hours or more a day among young adults doubled their odds of feeling socially isolated. However, remember this: social media would not exist without the Internet. Also, at present we silly humans seem to be bound and determined to put the Internet everywhere we can.
Look around, friends: The Internet is everywhere. It’s in your new toaster. It’s in your new dishwasher. It’s in your TV, which, if it’s a Samsung, can also allegedly spy on you in cahoots with the likes of the CIA, and no one seems to care. (The same might be true with Amazon’s popular Alexa, the amazing eavesdropping Internet grocery list builder/future Skynet contributor of your dreams.)
Yesterday, my bedroom thermostat, which should really just focus on being a bedroom thermostat, told me it needs a software update. I do not want an Internet thermostat. But it’s 2017, and I had to replace my air conditioning units, and behold: I dropped my guard, and an Internet thermostat I got.
The Internet Is Taking Over Everything, In Fact
It’s hard to escape the Internet these days. Thanks to smartphones, we also voluntarily bring the Internet with us everywhere we may roam. Smartphones attend dinner parties. They stand in line with us at Chipotle. They show up at the big school play. They even make cameos at occasional funerals. So when it comes to the Great Internet Revolt of 2017, perhaps the ubiquitous smartphone the best place to start.
“Search your feelings, you know it to be true: You are enslaved to the Internet,” wrote the New York Times’s Ross Douthat on March 11, noting the “excellent reasons to think that online life breeds narcissism, alienation, and depression,” along with “an insanity-inducing influence on the politically-engaged.” That’s why “we need a social and political movement — digital temperance, if you will — to take back some control.”
Douthat’s column was part of his “implausible ideas” series, but this isn’t implausible at all. Deleting certain apps from smartphones—Twitter, Facebook, Snapchat—can offer a roadblock to reflexive clicking. Self-imposed rules—no Internet after 5 p.m., for instance—might be broken occasionally, but at least they’re a start.
Simply turning off the phone at dinner, or while you’re on a walk, can weaken the digital leash. A friend of mine recently launched Wait Until 8th, an ingenious pledge for parents to support each other by not giving their children smartphones until at least eighth grade.
Join me, friends! We should all take our own little part in the Great Internet Revolt of 2017. Lest you’re alarmed, it need not be a total withdrawal. As questionable and tragicomic as it may be, there are many redeeming things about the World Wide Web.
Remember those clips of David S. Pumpkins, or the viral glory of that heroic toddler and baby videobombing their dad’s BBC interview? I enjoy both Instacart and Amazon, even though the latter entity might secretly want to spy on us all. I’ve procured many fine and unnecessary shoes on the Internet. Various ideas from Pinterest, meanwhile, have inspired me to aim high and attempt to take various home improvement projects at least 200 percent over budget!
As for Twitter and Facebook: In addition to hosting fun vacation and baby pictures, they’re excellent for sharing insightful articles just like this one, am I right?
I am right. I am totally right. In fact, I’ve never heard a better idea.