Dissidence and escapism in the internet age
Growing up in the 90s, I experienced a golden age of the digital revolution. The web was a (poorly designed) Wild West of ideas, content, and innovation. And being around 8 years old at the time I used my first computer, I was elated with the notion that everything was accessible to me at all times, from anywhere in the world. From my family’s first 256Mb Dell computer with its CRT monitor, I developed an interest for paleontology, archeology, entomology, history, mathematics, and of course technology.
I would wake up every day excited to hear the tone of our dial-up modem working away, connecting our AOL application to the rest of the world. I would open applications with photos and videos about dinosaurs, articles about how the human body works, and games that could only be completed through addition and subtraction.
Eventually, the technology behind my computer became a second world for me. I became able to communicate with my friends by typing at a keyboard. I was able to play greater and more advanced video games, and their inner workings fascinated me. And I would be able to research the things that interested me about them at a faster and faster pace.
I had no idea at the time, but the continued technological development from that point would end my nostalgia there.
My experiences were changed around 2003, when I was given my first laptop. The web became a constantly accessible, entirely portable entity that I could carry with me at all times. I could write a story and bring it to a friend’s house to share. I could amass an enormous collection of music and take it with me anywhere.
In 2010, I bought my first iPhone. It was a massive shift for technology as a whole, but it played an especially important role in how I consume the internet. Until that point, my experiences had all had a sense of purpose. I used computers for a reason, and I was excited by them. There was a sense of wonder and imagination brought forth by technology, similar to the effect of walking around Disney World. The web was like a theme park. It was a vacation from the real world.
But the day I activated that iPhone, the web became something else entirely. It became a sense of obligation rather than excitement. Using a computer no longer meant exploration and discovery. It meant hitting inbox zero and responding to text messages. It meant keeping up with political news, managing expenses, marking social notifications as read, answering the queries of strangers questioning my commentary about my own personal experiences, acknowledging baby pictures, and reading bad reviews about everything that can possibly be reviewed.
The internet became work.
15 years ago, the internet was an escape from the real world. Now, the real world is an escape from the internet.
Using modern technology is now representative of your attention span. How long can you keep your phone in your pocket without checking Twitter? Can you keep your laptop closed without answering the emails that keep piling up? Can you listen to some music with a quiet mind without thinking about the bank statement you just received? It’s overwhelming.
My main computer, now my phone, is a battleground for my attention. Snapchat wants me to take a photo. Twitter wants me to make a joke. Facebook wants me to talk about how great I’m feeling. YouTube wants me to create a vlog about my day. Medium wants me to write an article about something likely irrelevant that I think is important. Google wants me to upload my personal belongings to its cloud. And who even knows what Pinterest wants from me?
My computer makes demands of me rather than me making demands of it. And now rather than needing a vacation from the real world, I need vacations to the real world.
I’ve realized that all I want from the web is that nostalgic sense of discovery. To be excited to use the internet again. To feel like I can find something new every day, and to pick up a new interest like dinosaurs or insects or history or math. I want to quiet the noise and remove the bloat that comes with using the internet, leaving only the things that I want to be there. And I want my computer to treat me like my attention is valuable again.