Skip to main content

The Internet Versus the Noble Savage

Baby Boomers should have something to say about consuming information as a way of life. When we came into this world, the great blight of television befell the world. Today, toward the end of our passage, the internet is taking over. These are two information revolutions just as big as, but far more sudden than, the invention of the alphabet or Gutenberg's movable-type printing press.

Baby Boomers, destined to eventually become America's Worst Generation, started off life as the first generation raised on television. TV-haters (like me) would love to believe that that proves cause and effect.

Whether you buy that or not, it is strange how uncritically many parents welcomed TV into their homes in the 1950s. Soon the living room furniture was all arranged around the TV set. Many children grew up with no restrictions on their TV habits.

How ironic that many a traditional father in the 1950s kept a gun in the house to 'protect his family', you know. And yet he allowed this new-fangled thief to steal his family's time and to rape their minds with commercials.
I always wondered why my parents, both teachers, tolerated such a thing.

But the cultural decline associated with television is an old story and need not be rehashed here. Rather than looking back to the TV-blunder of our parents, we should ask if we are making the same mistake today, but with the internet. If we are, there is a bitter irony to it.

Lately I have done a better job at stretching the internet umbilical cord. This has added quite a bit to my sense of freedom, exploration, and the sheer size of North America, which would otherwise collapse precipitously in winter. It has turned out to be strange how invincible the internet addiction seems to be until you snap it; and then you wonder what the big deal was. Maybe this shouldn't be so surprising considering how many more decades a Baby Boomer lived without the internet, than with it. At any rate I'm quite optimistic that I will be able to beat this contemptible addiction. But this is getting ahead of story. First it needs to be explained what is wrong with an internet addiction.

I'll leave Facebook and Twitter out of the discussion since I'm unfamiliar with them, but people familiar with them will usually attest to their trivialness. Internet users with unlimited plans might well have become addicted to news clips from the TV news shows of an hour or two ago. Or perhaps they spent time watching "Wow, look at that!" sort of You Tube videos.

But those of us with limited data plans are forced to read the internet, rather than watch it. Some of the political or economical blogs that I read seem pretty good. But if I'm away from them for awhile, and then come back to them, I usually find the same old issues and soap operas being discussed, e.g., the presidential horse race, the financial crisis in Europe, the fiscal cliff in the USA, etc.

The limiting case of triviality are the travel blogs, of course. But let's be clear: the blogger/photographer is not doing anything wrong in photographing a national park just because his photographs are similar to those of millions of other visitors. He is simply indulging in a natural and harmless urge.

The mistake lies with the viewer/reader, who is squandering his life looking at "information" that is utterly predictable and choked with cliches and stereotypes.

The vaunted high-tech world of the internet has simply become one of those moving, jingling, glittering "mobiles" that Mommy hangs over a crib to keep Baby amused. Our central nervous systems are becoming addicted to continuous trivial (and even annoying) stimulation from an electronic noise and image box.

It goes back a lot further than 1950s of course. The other day I was reading James Boswell's version of the trip to the Hebrides Islands that he and Samuel Johnson took about 1770. He and Johnson  loved the endless bustle of London, and at times Boswell seemed to believe that the short attention span of the city slicker was praise-worthy. But on one of those dreary rainy days in the Hebrides he caught himself:

"I was happy when tea came. Such, I take it, is the state of those who live in the country. Meals are wished for from the cravings of vacuity of mind, as well as from the desire of eating. I was hurt to find even such a temporary feebleness, and that I was so far from being that robust wise man who is sufficient for his own happiness. I felt a kind of lethargy of indolence."
This is the very issue that a serious camper and traveler must confront. They must get good at, and proud of, their ability to fill the vacuity of the day with their own activities. They must entertain themselves rather than depend on habitual consumption of trivial distraction from the outside world, be it from electronic boxes, traffic, stores, restaurants, or the inane chatter of social ritual.


XXXXX said…
TV and internet are simply another way that humans communicate messages with each other. There is value in both and junk in both. I also believe the same thing holds true in direct conversation as well. It's also true with books in general or any other means of communication.
People bullshit each other all the time and that isn't much different than watching a commercial selling me crap. People engage in petty conversations, i.e., gossiping, shooting their mouths off regarding issues they know little about in reality, etc. There are many conversations that can only qualify as simply stroking one's ego or entertaining oneself rather than discovering truths, stretching one's mind, or actually learning something.
If you see any point to this, perhaps you can also entertain the idea that it matters little whether one lives in an RV or house or whatever for a person can create quality in their life anywhere. As you yourself have said many times, there are plenty of silly RV folks as well.
I think it is always a sign of a small mind when one gets locked into just one thing and refuses to contemplate the gold hidden in the other side.
With that, I'll concede that silly conversations and junk TV and internet must serve a purpose. Relaxation perhaps, bonding made possible when one does not rock the boat?
Yes there are dangers with too much exposure but philosophical types can also go off the deep end as well.
Ah, best to enjoy the beauty of the day wherever one finds himself/herself.
TomInBellaVista said…
Just campers and travelers? How about the rest of us?
Sondra said…
There is a time and place I guess. We need time to decompress and our hobbies are how we do that...a good mix of ALL things is probably harmless but certainly if we zero in on ONE thing, it could be an issue that will cause a problem! As adults we must learn to abstain from over undulgence and bring proper balance into our lives.
kenpratt said…
I actually agree with most of your thesis however my intent is to update family and friends as we travel around the country, once we retire. Right now I am practicing and learning for those who are currently doing the same thing.
Besides it is kind of a journal of sorts that isn't private enough to keep in a drawer but public enough to feel a little like Lewis and Clark.
Maureen said…
This is why you boondock, right? sometimes I feel somewhat ashamed and contrite about my need to "be connected" to the internet and all that implies. I did enjoy some quiet time at sunrise and at sunset. Now that it's dark and only 6 here I am again! It's all a matter of balance, right?
Tom and George, you have caught me in one of my lifestyle bigotries: I just assume that everybody who lives in a house gives no thought to anything besides being busy, comfortable, and conventional.