Monday, January 19, 2009

The Internet And Its Discontents

Look, nobody loves the internet more than I do. Sometimes the thrill of finding something weird and funny, or of seeing something old and forgotten, or of learning something new and obscure is so great that I can't keep my joy contained, and I have to say out loud: "I love the internet!" I wrote once before about my special love for Wikipedia. But when it comes to the internet, I don't have to play favorites. I gotta a lotta love to go around.

However. There's a problem with the internet. The problem is that keeping up with the Joneses is now keeping up with the Kardashians: the internet makes you think the comparison class for your life isn't the people in your town, or the people on your street, but rather the people you see online every day. That would be OK, except the people you see online every day are often either 1) celebrities or 2) really successful at what they do 3) rich or 4) famous for some other reason.

So seeing them, immediately, you're thinking, "Why does that person have a Louis Vuitton bag/position in the Obama administration/deal for a new screenplay/house in Malibu on the ocean and I don't?" Once you're thinking that, really, there's nowhere to go but down, because the reason always has to do with the unfairness of life and the stupidity of all the people who fail to recognize your particular genius. Then you're even more depressed than you were when you were just quietly feeling sorry for yourself. The internet turns ordinary discontentedness into envy with a touch of bitterness, and it lets you sulk on a really global scale. What do you mean that talentless nincompoop has a book deal and I don't? It's an outrage!

I think this partly explains the astonishingly negative tone of so much stuff on the internet. Ever check out the blog PhotoshopDisasters? They post examples of bad or silly photoshopping, except when they screw up and post stuff that turns out just to be odd or surprising, but unaltered. Man, do people get pissed when that happens. "This isn't a Disaster, you nincompoops! It's just a funny photo! What a terrible blog!!" Given that the "cost" of visiting the blog is just clicking the mouse, it's hard to imagine what is so upsetting. On my theory though, it's envy: some dude, Mr. or Ms. photoshopdisasters, is getting readers, maybe getting a bit of ad revenue, maybe getting some attention, and I'm not, and that is just so unfair!

I feel it myself, all the time. Just this morning I saw a lovely photo of the Obamas and the Bidens on their trip to DC. My first thought wasn't "Oh, the inauguration," or "Look, the new president" or even "Hey, they're on a train!" It was, "That looks so fun and cool, and I love those boots Michelle is wearing. So why do they get to be starting a whole new phase in life with power and glamour and money, and I don't? It's so unfair."

What could be more absurd?

I try to stay away from stuff I know is going to encourage me in these directions. I used to read TMZ, and I just stopped, cold turkey. I don't need to know that Paris Hilton is getting 100,000 dollars to go to a party, and I'm not. I don't need to know that Joe the Plumber has a new book deal, and I don't. Who needs this information? Not me.

But it's almost impossible to really lay down the law with yourself, and anyway, there's gossip everywhere these days. I could try staying away from the internet altogether, but that would make me sad. Because nobody loves the internet more than I do. Even if it does make me unhappy.


Captain Colossal said...

I couldn't agree more, and I'm relieved to hear that I'm not alone. For me, generally, it was at its worst with the supposedly normal people blogs where they would talk about their legions of devoted friends and the glamorous and exciting jobs they were thinking about taking and on and on and I felt all, "Hey! Where did I go wrong?"

Which is not to say that I didn't feel the same way about Paris Hilton.

Patricia said...

Hi Cap'n, I didn't even think of those cases but it's really true. I'm always like, wait, did you get a headstart or something? What is up with that?