Walking Away: My Relationship With The Internet (Part I)

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I have no idea what’s happening in the world.

I quit reading the news nearly a month ago. It’s been two weeks since I’ve read an opinion piece of any sort. I haven’t checked my personal Facebook in something like 10 months. I would like to delete it if only I could remember the login. In short, I’ve begun a slow process of divorcing myself from the internet.

I’ve stated many times before: I’m not anti-internet. Obviously I’m not because you’re reading this ON THE INTERNET. Additionally, in our day and age, it’s impossible to completely avoid it. I don’t think that the internet is evil, but like anything it can be used as an instrument for our own destruction.

For over a month, I was depressed. Not horribly depressed, there was just a lingering sense of melancholy that I couldn’t shake. I’ve been medicated for over three years. Unfortunately I’m also a nasty alcoholic. I took care of that problem nearly a year ago. I suppose that onset of clinical depression is out of our control, nevertheless there were certain habits that were exasperating my anxiety.

So I searched. I discovered that I had a really stupid obsession: this fucking blog. And the things I did to fuel the energy into writing it: current events and internet culture. Something had to give. The absurdity of the world, of the 24 hour news cycle, of being glued to my phone for over 12 hours a day…It was driving me insane. Life stopped being about friends and family, stopped being about the outdoors under the sun. The world became a much smaller place: it was contained within a handheld device. It pained me, but I just couldn’t live in this tiny world anymore.

We praise the achievements of mankind. And indeed, the internet is incredible. Humanity is better connected than it’s ever been. We’re exposed to a massive amount of information. In that respect, the internet is undoubtedly the greatest invention of all time. But with this power, responsibility has been lacking. The endless news cycle and abundance of resources competing with one another for viewership has quite literally made us addicted.  There’s nothing we love more than ourselves and social media has done an excellent job in exploiting our vanities. In my view, the web has greatly altered political ideology. The typical Right-Left dynamic is, again in my opinion, almost unrecognizable from even a few decades ago. The internet has fundamentally changed, in more ways than one, how we process the world. Is this a good or bad thing? In many ways it’s an absolutely good thing, particularly in an educational sense. People are probably more knowledgeable now than they’ve ever been. That is progress. However, what is less discussed is the effects that the barrage of technology, and the isolation of individuals, that’s been fostered by the internet. In this sense, there needs to be a greater degree of skepticism towards common notions of achievement and progress.

Without this skepticism, true progress can’t be achieved at all. Sure, we’re more “connected” to individuals on the other side of the world. But what does this matter when we’re failing to connect with our friends and neighbors? Knowledge and technology is good and well, but how does it contribute to our general wellbeing? It’s these kinds of questions we must ask and answer before we can establish any sort certainty on “progress”.

Once again, I’m going to tell you that I’m not an expert in anything. I’m not an anthropologist. But the stereotypical view (in my mind) that anthropologists have presented us regarding indigenous peoples, or those that have minimal contact with modern civilization, is that they are happier. Clearly that’s a subjective term. I couldn’t tell you how happiness might be philosophically defined….other than “you know it when you feel it”. I can certainly tell you what it’s not: feelings of loneliness, unfulfillment, etc. So I’m using the term happiness very generally here. But even in that context, it certainly makes sense why indigenous peoples would be happier than folks in modern civilization: there are less barriers between them, less hustle and bustle, a greater connection between the individual and the community. Obviously I have to apply the same degree of skepticism towards indigenous living as I do with modern living. Perhaps they are just as miserable as those in current civilization and suffering is just a part of the human condition. But maybe it’s true: they possess greater feelings of fulfillment.

So what is it about modern life that makes us feel so “unfulfilled?” Of course, I’m a big fan of Marx and Engels, and much has been made about the “primitive communism” that resembles indigenous living. I have lots of questions regarding the validity of that theory, so I won’t jump down that rabbit hole, but I think that has subconsciously taken hold within certain left-leaning bourgie circles (for a lack of a better description): the need to return to simpler living. Hence we get the tiny house movement. But such sentiments are only superficial and they entirely miss the point. The objective isn’t simply to return to native (i.e. simple) living. The technological genie can’t be put back into the bottle. The internet, smartphones, and electric cars aren’t going away and I’m not saying they should. We can only learn to live WITH them. What I am saying is that we can live in accordance with nature while living the modern life. Of course there’s so much working against that. In addition to our technological barrier, careerism has reduced us to useless cogs in a much larger machine. We just punch a clock, most of us don’t see the difference our lives make. That’s alienation, that’s another source of our unfulfillment. But with the internet, and social media in particular, we only see the image of other people’s lives. Then we confuse that image for reality. There’s too many people and not enough time in the day, we couldn’t possibly keep track of all the events going on everyone’s lives (that is, the lives of individuals directly in our social circle). So what we see is what they show us via social media, which isn’t reality but a distorted image of reality. Then we evaluate our own lives according to these distorted images. We don’t directly perceive the lives of our friends and neighbors, for the most part. A sense of community has broken down. This process began long before the rise of the internet, but whatever longing we had for a communal connection has been supplanted by social media. It’s seemingly preferable to interact electronically. The internet, social media specifically, has isolated the individual. The last vestiges of community have been stamped out by excessive online use. Rather than seeing ourselves as a part of something, we now identify ourselves solely as I. And this empty narcissism has been successfully manipulated by the genius engineers and entrepreneurs of Silicon Valley. This narcissism drives us to compete with our friends and neighbors rather than live for and with them. This empty pursuit is the main source of our unfulfilled lives.

Personal interaction has grown less and less tangible. In the US specifically, the necessity for “personal space” has driven us apart. We retreat into our 2,000 square foot homes, commute alone in our 5 seat vehicle, and regularly despise our coworkers…or the very people we spend most of our time with. I’m guilty of all of these things. Then we wonder why depression, drug use, and loneliness is so prevalent. I quit social media not because I want face-to-face interaction…I NEED it. We all do. Tangible interaction is a necessity for happiness.  (This includes so-called “introverts”, of which I am one)

So it makes sense why I’d leave social media. But why avoid the news?

There’s the obvious:  in the game of “telephone”, a statement can be greatly altered between just a few people. When it finally reaches back to the original sender, the message is rarely similar in any way. The news works in a very similar fashion. We’re often reading second and third-hand accounts of events. What we’re told is rarely what ACTUALLY occurred (if you recall, this is why I rejected the Gospels of Matthew, Luke, and John as reliable accounts regarding the life of Jesus of Nazareth). Of course, we’re led to believe that the field of journalism is a highly disciplined profession, and there are certain measures in place to ensure the reliability of information. But when publications compete with one another for viewership, often the reliability of information is compromised in order to maintain a strategic advantage. Therefore the interpretation of events, particularly political ones, are tilted towards certain points of views. As a result, we get Fox News, CNN, and HuffPost that present news in a way that appeals to its audience…but is not an accurate representation of the “facts”. The various sources of news and information do not fight against disinformation…they actively promote it.

However, I doubt that anyone pretends that these sources are, in fact, reliable. Nevertheless, viewers continue to rely on these news outlets despite intuitively understanding that they’re stroking our indignant sense of outrage. And many choose to incorporate this outrage into an identity, so they see themselves as “conservative” or “liberal”. Anyone that holds views contrary to their identity are seen as an enemy to the constitution, democracy, or whatever bullshit they need to rationalize their outrage. So they use the media as source to validate their views.

So the news and social media, proliferated by the internet, are together mobilized to further our isolation from the community. It’s a crippling addiction. I’ve always felt that addiction to the news is far worse than addiction to pornography. Although porn for better or worse informs our attitudes towards sex, at least it (in its legal forms) presents itself as fiction…or as adults behaving in a manner for the sexual pleasure of the viewer. The viewer is very much in on the fantasy of it all. When viewed in that light, it’s much easier to walk away from it. Mainstream news outlets (like Fox News and HuffPost), however, have the same modus operandi: largely fiction masquerading as truth presented for the instant gratification of viewers. Except that the news doesn’t operate under the same pretensions as pornography: it doesn’t portray itself as fantasy. With porn, in theory at least (there are some strange people out there), there’s supposed to be a “release”. The viewer gets the satisfaction that he (or she) needs. With the news however, it’s like watching porn without the orgasm. It gets one all worked up and nowhere to go. So there’s millions of people walking around with metaphorical blue balls. That has an effect on our attitudes. I have coworkers that will be pissed off all day if Donald Trump has a bad day. I would get pissed off if I read something bad from one of the many sources I frequented. I would get pissed off at some middle-aged white guy for simply being a middle aged white guy. One cannot live like that.

President Donald Trump is like heroin for our current news cycle. He cannot be escaped. There’s no one out there that thinks of Trump and goes “meh, don’t care.” And these opinions, from both the left and right, were driving me crazy. I couldn’t do it anymore. But Trump has exposed the news for what it is: it’s a joke. They want us to be perpetually pissed off so that we’ll keep tuning in. This was true before Trump, but now it’s abundantly clear. The news is a drug, and if I learned anything from DARE, it’s this: “just say no.”

I’ve even avoided opinion pieces from Salon, National Review, The Week, and others. I also cut Chapo Trap House and other leftist podcast from my listening routines.

Has it worked? Am I happier, fulfilled, and better connected to my community?

Well, honestly it’s too early to say one way or another. So far I’m not as pissed as I once was. But it’s a process. I’m still learning to connect with others in my community.

There’s also the question of disconnecting from current events/political discourse. Is that a good way of connecting with friends and neighbors? Shouldn’t one be engaged in current events in order to maintain social awareness? To be clear, I’m not advocating apathy (although you’re within your right to be so). I’m just expressing criticism and protest against the explosion of the 24-hour news cycle and how online culture fosters such debates.

If they’ve degraded our sense of awareness, then they’ve been of no benefit at all. That doesn’t mean that the internet is a curse….we just have to reassess our attitudes towards technology.

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