I was watching The Circle a couple of nights ago. If you haven’t seen this movie, you should. Even though it is clearly fiction – a movie about data mining companies becoming Big Brother, all seeing, all knowing – it has many grains of truth.
I should know. I have been online for the last 25 years. My days go back to a 1200 baud modem and a dial-up account with AOL. I can still hear the modem chirping, squealing and shrilling as it negotiated a connection between my house and AOL’s fledgling data centers.
Slowly, I began to live my entire life online. Almost overnight my company went from designing print to designing websites. I did ecommerce long before there was an Amazon, pioneered livecasts from Alaska when there was no such thing as a cellphone, and challenged what was known with what was possible at every turn. Hell, my then wife and I are the reasons why Port Orchard got broadband down its main street, long before other parts of town (including, famously my house), had it.
For an entire two years, I blogged about my life five days a week right here on RobZerrvations. Roughly a thousand words churned out every day, 5,000 words a week, more than a quarter million each year.
I worked out of my 8th-floor condo, running my creative services company from the beaches of Florida and none of my clients even knew where I was. They didn’t really care either. Through the magic of the Internet and time zones, I was able to turn a job I received at 4 p.m. on Wednesday back to the client at 8 a.m. Pacific time on Thursday, letting some guy in India do all the dirty work for pennies while I charged the client hundreds of dollars.
I was a beta tester of Twitter. Was early on MySpace and dumped it to go with Facebook a year into its public facing. I routinely tested the corners of the edge of technology, trying out new ideas in phones and Internet appliances for the home and car (remember Audrey and Apple’s eMate 300?).
Now for the good part. The point here is not to brag or position me as some kind of Internet savant. The point is that I’ve been doing this since virtually the beginning, back when people used BBS to “chat.” I have lived life online and have even shared my life, often extremely painful and private things, with the World Wide Web.
And here’s what I found. There’s really not much to see here. I famously like to share the web page that tells people that they found the end of the Internet, that they’ve seen everything and now it’s time to move on, like it’s the end of a movie.
But on the Net, we seem to like to not only sit through the end credits, then the darkness, but we wait for the next movie and the next and the next. We’ve become content junkies.
This would all be well and good if the Internet had reached its full potential. We seem to forget in this meme crazed world that the Internet was originally created so researchers could share their research with one another. It had a lofty goal in the beginning, only to be taken down to the mat by AOL, which turned it into consumer-oriented fodder for the masses.
I still remember signing into one of the chatrooms. It was for Jimmy Buffett fans, a place to talk about being a Parrothead. Cool, I thought! I could have a meeting of minds. What I got instead was raspy sounds of a guy cannonballing into a pool and the clink of margarita glasses, all through a 1200 baud pipeline where every sound came across in slooooow motioooon.
There went the promise of the Internet. Within a couple years we had totally shelved the idea of creating true democracy with a communication tool for the masses, one where we could share ideas and move the sticks in making this country better. Instead, we sank slowly and contentedly into banalities, from memes to looping gifs of a guy lighting his farts to cats following a laser pointer.
I guess I’ve seen it all by now. Maybe I have really reached the end of the Internet, or at least of the Internet as something useful in my life. Yes, I still look up information on the Net; I really do like have an instant library at my fingertips because I am still horribly curious and always learning more about the world I live in.
But it’s become painful for me to look at Facebook, where people post about their ailments, about some missing child that was actually missing 10 years ago but they only found out about it now, stolen packages and stolen cars, fake news posted by both parties and more damned cat videos.
It’s not that I am so high and mighty. I have no feelings of superiority here. In fact, as I’ve aged, I’ve come to learn that the older I get, the less I know. I have become a child in the world of knowledge, courageous enough to admit that I know very little, even after nearly six decades of learning.
I admit though, that more and more I am disconnecting from the immediacy that seems to be the Internet. Everyone seems to be in such a panic these days, or angry about one thing or another, or sharing moments at their worst (if anyone shoots a photo of me laid out in a hospital bed, I will kill them).
It’s like being addicted to “reality TV,” which as we know, is all carefully edited and staged. It’s not real at all. Neither is Twitter, Facebook, Snap, Instagram or any other number of sites. They are simply reflections of how we want to be seen by others, like we are still trying to be the popular kids in high school when we’re still just a dweeb.
I happily admit that I am a full-on dweeb. My only addiction is to be the best version of myself, to learn as much as I can until the day I die, and perhaps leave the world a little better off than when I arrived. And that leaves very little room for more cat videos and mindless memes.
In the Emerald City, going rogue, going back to the real world more and more,