Never has the world been so connected. The Internet has brought us together in ways that have produced a collective consciousness akin to what two decades before was only science-fiction. We’re a species that likes to communicate. We communicate about everything, from world politics to what we had for lunch. There are more non-fiction books published now than ever before, all promising an end to your depression, impotence, mediocrity, shyness, weight problems, and scary penmanship. Whether it's surfing the web, hanging out at my local bookstore, or watching television, I am promised answers to all of my problems. Most of these answers, I didn’t even realize I needed. It’s all very Kafkaesque; I feel like I’m in either a Woody Allen or a David Lynch film.
However, what I’ve come to realize only recently is that no one is answering anything. I begin my day reading the news and listening to Finneran’s Forum, a local, early-morning broadcast concerning all things Boston politics here on Boston’s WRKO. I then work my way through the CNN, The Huffington Post, Politico, New York Times, Boston Globe, Wall Street Journal, and Boston Herald websites—in that order. I listen to NPR’s late morning shows and then switch to Rush Limbaugh. After Rush, it’s back to NPR while I read whatever magazines I have delivered: Time, Improper Bostonian, The Atlantic, Wired, Newsweek…
I think you get the point: I’m well-informed. And by “well-informed,” I mean that I get my information from a myriad of sources in order to keep myself Zen.
So would someone please tell me why I know absolutely nothing about almost everything? Sure, I’m able to digest and metabolize the information I receive on a daily basis, but by the end of the day, I’m no better off for it. I’ve spent fifteen hours reading and thinking and writing and then reading and thinking and writing some more…but nuthin’!
I’m the audience for minds who speak about all things political, social, cultural, religious, sexual, ethical. And then, within those broad categories, it’s all about technology, physics, scientific research, political theory, music, television, film. Hundreds of contributing writers’ words dance (stumble) across my screen or page, each article telling me, with varying degrees of conciliatory intimacy and intellectual (vibrato) muscle, that either the sky is falling, the sky is falling and here’s why, or the sky is falling and, boy, aren’t I just dandy!
I’m told what, when, and how much to eat. I’m told how I should be a better citizen, how not upset my wife when she’s having her period (I don’t have a wife), how to cheat everything from taxes to death, how to “tweak” my understanding of global politics by admitting that I’m just a boorish American, how to wash my whites, why running with scissors is a really bad idea. I’m told all about Jesus, automobiles, the differences between Web 2.0 and Ajax, why asdf1234 absolutely hates her aunt’s choice of outdoor tablecloths, Michelle Obama’s arms, George W. Bush’s lack of balls (perhaps Michelle Obama has them), and that it is, in fact, quite easy and absolutely a-okay to be green. Well, what do you know about that? And here I’d spent years defending that damn talking frog….
Is there no truth? Is it all truth? The answer is “yes,” and “yes.”
We have access to more information now than at any time in recorded history, yet we’re still struggling with issues that we should be well beyond—issues such as Civil Rights (gay marriage, abortion, etc.), separation of church and state, corruption in politics and business and religion, etc. That we’re continuously mystified when some monster or group of monsters visits harm upon the innocent reminds me of how a child is continuously amazed by the same magic trick done over and over.
Anyone with a voice today has a very public platform—blogging, Twitter, Facebook, etc.—and yet for all of this potential, nothing has changed. So what’s going on here? I’m beginning to believe that we don’t want answers, that we simply like to hear the sound of our (own) voices, and that in, say, 300 years, this epoch will be looked upon as the Age of the Mental Masturbators.
Are we, in fact, in another Dark Age? With all that science and technology has done for us, are we any better off? Before you brand me a troglodyte and catalog our so-called advancements—medicines that prevent erectile dysfunction, that make us happy, that manage our cholesterol and blood pressure, that clean out the plaque in our arteries—riddle me this: Why are we all so unhealthy? What, exactly, have we really cured? Cancer? Aids? Autism? Any of the muscle and nerve diseases, such as MS? Any of the brain diseases, such as Alzheimer's? The common cold? Allergies? How great is it that billions of dollars were spent and hundreds of animals died slow, unimaginably painful deaths as they were taken apart by scientists in the name of medical research just so Johnny doesn’t have to hit his asthma pump as many times a day?
We have cell phones that can surf the web and give us directions to anywhere in the country, but do we actually go to any of these places? Do we need to? And if we do, what do we do when we get there? A better question: what have we sacrificed to get there?
If given the choice of a world without the Internet or a world without Shakespeare, I’d take Shakespeare and flush the Internet every single time. The problem is, I don’t think I’m in the majority. What’s bringing our country to its knees is not some outside invader but ourselves! We believe in the very carefully constructed illusion in which we live, the world of material and financial gain unabashedly called “progress” by both government and industry.
Indeed, these are dangerous times. For why, in 2009, are issues which are fundamental to a thriving, evolving society still, for us, seemingly insurmountable? Why, for example, are we still hung up on Civil Rights (gay marriage, in particular), bigotry, discrimination, and reverse-discrimination (anti-Semitism, affirmative action, etc.)? Why haven’t we severed the connection between the television commercials—and the television shows themselves—and our brains? It frightens me when I’m standing in line at the market and I hear person after person using the exact same lexicon, the exact same thought processes as the characters on their favorite television shows. I hope you can provide some answers, because I’m all out!