Commentary

You Must Remember This, Though You Won't

I had no idea about what to write today. Nothing. Not a thing. That’s because I've been spending too much time watching insipid online videos and then going to Yahoo and looking at stupid pictures about movie stars and people who do foolhardy stunts. 

I also notice these days that I can't remember things that friends and family insist happened, a problem I never used to have. This, I hope, attests to Nicholas Carr's assertion that the Internet hurts your long-term memory, rather than suggests something more insidious, like the possibility that my brain is turning into kimchi. 

I was in Virginia last weekend (I remember that, at least) on a yearly visit to a friend in the mountains. My daughter and her friend insisted that last year when we visited we had gone swimming in some lake in the area. I have not the slightest memory of this. In fact, I can't remember what the hell I did last year. 

Today I did, however, manage to read The New Yorker. That was a major accomplishment because it required me to close my Macbook. Speaking of memory, the magazine's fiction section has a short story about a new kind of connected device that is even more solipsistic-making than the thing whose screen you are blankly staring at right now. 

The device lets you relive any moment from your past in explicit detail. And it is even more addictive than the Internet because it completely removes you from your prosaic world and lets you play again and again any moment from your life. In the story the device estranges our protagonist from his job, his life, his daughter. And his daughter uses it, as well, to revisit his wife, her mother, now deceased. Then he notices that his boss and everyone else at work has gotten one of the boxes, too, and all of them are also coming in late, walking about the office with blank eyes and coffee stains on their shirts. 

The empowerment crowd — those who think the Internet is essentially a feedback device for constant uplift of the species (as the Web makes us wiser, omniscient, more in tune with the immediate, and we make the Internet more powerful, efficient, more alive to our immediate needs) — point out that, far from muting the incessant clarion calls from our community, society, world, and our own lives, and dulling us to their crises, the Web connects all of us and brings us "closer," whatever that even means. And it makes us smarter, not dumber. 

The Internet does make everything engaging, that's for sure, if only for the moment. And it takes us out of our completely static world, which just keeps getting more boring the more we peer into our digital pleasure domes, where everything can happen and you can witness horrific and wonderful things that you would never have dreamed of just a few years ago. And where you can buy things easily. And where you can also be a "brand" unto yourself by participating in the restoration of the "me" generation by making your own derring-do videos: you jumping off your roof and landing on your face, or running from the neighbor's dog while lip synching to "Happy."

The real world is indeed less exciting than it used to be, and it is forcing me to greater extremes in my search for the kinds of pleasures and thrills I can get online. Thus my pretend paragliding from my porch with an umbrella, Mary Poppins style; my efforts to fly by wearing a large raincoat and running down the sidewalk into the wind. My drinking 10 cups of coffee per day, forgetting to do my taxes, refusing to practice my recorder, missing confession, obsessively searching my softball mitt for the "on" button, and thinking my wife is part of the "Internet of Things" because she knows where everything is at any given moment and it's my fault when something isn't where she put it. Because I’ve forgotten where I put it. She even bought me a key chain that’s part of the Internet of things: if I lose my keys I can go online and find them using Google Maps. What fun. 

I got a press pitch a couple of days ago for a soccer ball that is actually a connected device. Why do I need a soccer ball with Bluetooth? Because someone made it, that's why I need it. Folks, we have arrived at the moment where invention is the mother of necessity.

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2 comments about "You Must Remember This, Though You Won't".
  1. Tom Keane from USA Weekend , May 30, 2014 at 10:16 a.m.
    Sad, but true. We have all leaped enthusiastically into the world of Fahrenheit 451 and 1984. Nobody pushed us. Trade "press" happily buzzes that consumers think privacy is overrated and are happy to give it up for more . . . "convenience." Parents, kids, family and friends all believe they are more connected than ever, but can't hold a conversation or share/recall common memories.
  2. Paula Lynn from Who Else Unlimited , May 30, 2014 at 10:36 a.m.
    Until they find out the money and all the amenities they want are gone. Then they find out they are splitting bricks for the few in control of the gadgets.