The Internet is access, power, knowledge, connections, and potential. It's engagement, empowerment, community, and a place where anyone can be a brand. It is the Oracle at Delphi, and a means of quasi-omniscience, all questions answered, and apps that tell you where you are, where to go, whom to see, where they went, and why they don’t like you. You don’t need anything but what’s on that screen. If you’re hungry, there’s Seamless.
But some of those, ahem, less sanguine, skeptical, and generally morose types we all know would argue that the Internet makes people less curious, less interested, and only superficially informed about what's happening out there in life. Such Gollums will argue that supplanting experience with digital stimulation makes one’s experience of society as flat, fleeting, and fuzzy as a retina burn.
These nattering nabobs of negativism will say, furthermore, that the real, actual, physical people inhabiting the world are actually rendered less substantial, with less portent, than the ones we meet through gifs and videos, and about whom bloggers, reporters, vloggers, friends, foes and trolls write about incessantly.
Thus, skeptics will blather, we are less interested in real than in the manufactured spontaneity of “reality.” “Well, (chortle), that goes far in explaining Donald Trump's success in politics,” they’ll joke. “He's proof we aren't citizens anymore, but subjects.”
Treason, that. Thomas Jefferson would have you hanged for that, were he here. He erased that word, remember? He took “subjects” out of the first draft of the Declaration of Independence, and replaced it with “consumers.” I mean “citizens.” And the Neil Postmans of the world, with their, “There's no longer any difference between discourse and entertainment.” I know the difference: The latter is fun and changes every 1.5 seconds; the former is boring and requires more time than I have today. Yes, I'm a tad too busy this week to pick up The Charterhouse of Parma. I have a life. Long live me! And I’m not wasting time at the Lincoln/Douglas debates.
The other argument I heard recently: ecommerce and digital life in general have fueled the growth of a disenfranchised population. Huh? I heard this from a friend who I think is on Zyprexa right now, so I'm not taking this as gospel. He thinks Oprah is talking to him. His argument: The Internet isn't creating an un-empowered underclass, but it's keeping more and more people there in a permanent state. He told me, after having taken a stroll through Times Square (he’s got lots of time to do that because he's too lazy to get a job) that he was shocked.
“I'm seeing people, middle-aged men and women, just sitting in chairs at tables strewn around the Square. Not drinking, not talking to themselves, but clearly impecunious, maybe homeless, maybe not. But just sitting. Lots of them. No work, no prospects.”
These people, he intoned, just stare into the middle distance at nothing. Nothing to do, no one to call, no computer to use for Monster.com job hunting. My erudite, sanctimonious friend, who imagines he's Disraeli and speaks like Bernard Shaw said, “Ah, few but the self-deluded and the even rarer Horatio Algers of the world would argue that the bottom ever leaves the bottom. But,” he continued, “I'd argue that the situation in the U.S. is now far worse, partly because they are not only physically, but also digitally excluded.”
This argument I've heard, too: first, once you're down and out you not only don't have a bank account, but you don't have a smartphone, T-Mobile account with data usage, or a laptop. My friend pointed to a report he saw in U.S.A. Today this week about how the majority of job growth has been in high-income employment, meaning the digital economy. So what? Hate to be crass here, but history isn't kind, never has been, and that's why it is strewn with the detritus of people, and whole societies, hurled into the void like rocks from a catapult.
And Americans? We certainly aren't subjects. We are consumers. I mean citizens. Sorry. And if we want to be entertained, we deserve it. And if people want their smart thermostats, their self-regulating foot deodorizers, and their mega teeth-whitening digital toothbrush that not only brushes your teeth, but tells Facebook which of your teeth are cleanest today (as part of a social promotion where people online compete for a year’s supply of tongue cleaner), by God, let them get it, and let them buy with their phones. And let them Skype their teeth to their friends.
I, for one, will work tirelessly for a world that is entirely on my screen so I never have to actually look at anything else. Permanent Oculus Rift implants for me. I shan’t sleep until I never have to look at another, actual human again and every screen knows my name. As someone said once on YouTube, “I will not cease from Mental Fight, Nor shall my Sword sleep in my hand, Till we have built Jerusalem, In England's green & pleasant Land.” I mean England.com, sorry. Wait, where’s England?