Thursday, March 10, 2011

Beware the internet, Batman.

Ah, the internet. When I was but a wee lass, I loved writing lengthy, complex, and almost inconceivably convoluted stories on page after page of loose leaf paper. I'd craft epic tales of my imaginary friend (Snowball the unicorn, who was TOTALLY REAL and who will kick your ass if you don't humor me) and her trials and tribulations, often involving Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles in the setting of whatever movie I was currently obsessed with. These stories, almost all of which were lost in a necessary but irresponsible cleaning of my parents' basement in 2004, were richly illustrated in whatever overpriced medium I could scavenge from the art closet.

Yes. We had an art closet. It had crappy shelves made from crappy wood, and was literally overflowing with my Mom's repeated attempts at a new crafty, artsy hobby. (She goes through phases of creative interest much the way that teenage girls go through nail polish colors, and I love her for it.) "The time Snowball and Michaelangelo got lost in that scary castle from "The Last Unicorn"" was probably illustrated in oil pastel or $6 a pop markers, and probably had a cover that I spent most of an afternoon collage-ing, painting, or possibly even weaving with fancy ribbons and weird natural fibers left over from some holiday gift project. In other words, I put a crap-ton of time into making these things, and they were literally some eight-paragraph ramble of copyright infringement and pre-pubescent romantic fantasy (more copyright infringement). Still, they were creative, they were original, and they fulfilled my youthful dreams of publishing glory.

Now, we have the internet. Some see this as an endless sea of possibility, peppered with every inspiration, every fragment of human creation and aspiration, and every answer imaginable short of that to the question "am I pregnant?" (There is not a good pregnancy test online: I've looked.) I think the 'net is pretty sweet, but like any fun tool, it must be used with great caution, or someone is liable to lose an eye.

When I was your age (i.e. unconceived), the internet sort of existed, but my parents didn't even own a computer. We got an iMac - the original turquoise blue one - when I was in middle school, and thus I began my online adventures. A favorite internet memory of mine is of going in to my first chatroom with my brand new AOL screen name (badass) while my parents watched over my shoulder in proud awe. Amidst a sea of strangers asking if anyone wanted to chat (which, logically, is why they were there in the first place) and probing one another for such personal details as geographic location or favorite movie, I accidentally responded "no" to someone's question about a personal interest (I think someone asked if "anyone had ever been to Paris") and it LOOKED like I had said "no" to a chat request. My mother immediately started screaming at me for being so inconsiderate, and forced me to spend the next five minutes typing "I'm sorry, TallMan35! I didn't mean to be so mean! Please forgive me!" and the like until this (probably both confused and ambivalent) dude said it was no big deal. I felt like a total jackhole, and was too embarrassed to go in a public chatroom again until I was almost 17. 

Things did get better: the next iMac was purple (not green, like I had begged for it to be) and I started to assert my privilege to use it without fear of parental judgment. I did once leave the internet connected to some X-Files fan site overnight, causing me to need to write a letter of apology to my father's boss...because he paid for our internet and it was only supposed to be for business use. I developed a neuroses about staying online for too long, since the internet apparently cost a case of gold krugerrands per hour of use back then, but this has served me well. I've learned to be discerning, to not just rampantly consume every flashy and vaguely relevant-to-my-life site that comes along; I think this has saved me a lot of time, though I do tend to miss out on a lot of contagious memes.

My fear for you - even for me, little Batman - is that the internet is actively killing human creativity. I feel that my care in not oversaturating myself with the internet's tempting juices has paid off, and not just because I was raised playing with recycled Glenlivet tins (where the hell did those come from if neither of my parents drank the stuff? am I that naive, or is this really a mystery?) filled with paintable plaster Christmas ornaments. I certainly don't think that overuse - responsible heavy use, especially - of the so-called "world wide web" is necessarily a problem. As you'll no doubt learn, I am definitely a snob, but this is not one of those times when I look down my nose as those who act differently from me. Some of the most innovative, dynamic, original thinkers I know basically need a digital vomitorium to get through all the internet they consume in a given day. Then again, nearly every blithering moron I interact with tends to cite "this cool shit I found online" or "this bitching link on someone's Facebook wall" as if this link, picture, idea, or whatever was an earth-shattering revelation. 

Guess what? If you've found it somewhere on the internet, you can probably find it in several oodles of other places on the internet. Batman, my challenge to you is to come up with something that the internet hasn't thought of yet. If, in your life, you can compose one truly original idea (and I'm not just talking about a magical new food combo, though that'd be cool, too), you will have surpassed most of the billions of humans on this planet. Just don't put it online, okay?

1 comment:

  1. With Batman's parents and artistic Grandma, how could this child be anything but witty and creative!?