What are we all doing?

SEPTEMBER 20TH, 2016 — POST 260

This time of the morning — a time you look at the sky trying to work out if the sun has begun to rise or that off-black is just light pollution — isn’t typically renowned for being the best mental lubricant. Especially when it comes to verbal communication, I hear myself stumbling through grunts projected from vocal chords still saggy from sleep. Part of the reason I choose to write at this time is the brain needs spooling up. But this morning, when sitting down alone at the cafe and opening my laptop, the girl from behind the counter asked: “What are you writing?” I muttered a response about blogging, about news or movie reviews, something that has some meaning off of the internet. But right now for me it’s less about what I’m writing and why I’m still doing it.

I’ve come to a point where I wonder daily the worth of this daily blogging. The hour or so it takes me each morning is becoming increasingly valuable and I’m less and less convinced that this is the best use of that time. And recently Alex Balk of The Awl has written about how the internet is killing us. In it is a link to a longer piece by Andrew Sullivan headlined “My Distraction Sickness”. Both acknowledge that alarmism in the face of new technology can be found at every technological pivot point but still want to interrogate whether the way we use the internet really is worthwhile. The way I answer what it is I write about reminds me of a Louis C.K. bit — one in which C.K. takes the roles of God and a regular human under God’s questioning. “What’s a job?” God asks. “It’s like when someone’s game doesn’t work and you have to, like, fix it,” the regular guy stumbles in response.

We understand blogging as tied to a social web since the early-2000s. And yet out of an internet context, the practice is kind of weird. Sullivan admits he at one point was so enamoured with blogging he wanted to have a piece up every half hour — addicted to the consumption of the internet’s infinite novelty as much as being able to provide his own rapid integration of new information in a blog post. Most of the things we do online — or even cultural moments that exist online — are oddities when communicated verbally offline. Evocation or explanation of memes in the real world is a cringe-inducing affair when overheard on the subway or in an office. The obscure linguistic strings unique to the internet — things like “r/mechanicalkeyboards” and the email address format — resist verbalisation and render attempts to speak them basically like reading a laundry list of punctuation and casing conventions.

Running through Balk’s piece is a sense that it’s not so much the internet proper that is killing us, but rather the dominant implementations of it — specifically Twitter and Facebook. And as much of a toxic waste of time these might be, they do at least congeal the closest approximation to a social unity. “I saw this thing on Facebook…” is a reasonable way to start a sentence in conversation because, chances are, the people you’re talking to will pipe up like “Oh yeah, I saw that too.” As clunky as it might be in spoken word, an offline connection can still be made. And Sullivan does acknowledge the impact the publications he helped to run had on the internet: large readerships, updates every twenty minutes. “But for what?”, Sullivan seems to ask himself.

Today is Post 260, which means by the end of the week I’ll be double figures away from a year doing this. The home stretch. This is the main way I’ve decided to use the internet this year and I still couldn’t tell you if it’s something I would recommend trying — or at least not sticking with for this long. For the most part, what I’m doing isn’t valuable to most people, nor really me. What I’m largely doing is just adding noise to a noisey world.


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Thanks, I really appreciate it.


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