The Internet Changes You

I was moving furniture with my older brother a few days before the start of the spring semester and while we were waiting at a traffic light he punched me on the shoulder from the driver’s seat and said, “There’s this picture of this little dog with its hands raised up in the air like it’s celebrating and it says: ‘When your bank account is more than zero!’ Haha! It’s the funniest little thing.”

I didn’t laugh and he got upset to a degree that I thought was unwarranted. After a minute he got serious and said, “Someone showed me that picture while we were chopping wood and me and the guys cracked up and kept talking about it for the rest of the day. That got us through the day. You people (by which he meant, ‘people who don’t cut themselves off from the internet because they fear the government is trying to control them’) are so inundated with jokes and funny pictures that nothing makes you laugh anymore.”

The question of whether the internet had changed my sense of humor was on my mind before I picked up Carr’s book. My initial reaction to my brother was “No, that’s just a bad joke,” but after reading Carr’s explanations of neuroplasticity, particularly, his quote about the internet taking away his ability to concentrate on longer works, I realized that I might have been affected more by my internet usage than I once thought. “And what the net seems to be doing is chipping away my capacity for concentration” (pg. 6). Yeah, that’s me. Being connected to the internet means news can break instantaneously, and any time I open Twitter I could be greeted with a world changing update. How can I pay attention to a long boring article when the world is literally at my fingertips?

Access to so much information and so many connections has impacted the way I see and interact with the real world. The most interesting thing I’ll ever read, the funniest joke I’ll ever be told, and the coolest people I’ll ever interact with will almost certainly be done online. The world becomes boring when you realize that you’ll never meet your favorite celebrity, but you can have a back and forth conversation on twitter. What Carr meant when he wrote about his concentration being chipped away was that he was used to getting news in bite (or byte) sized chunks and thus long form articles were unengaging. But I think it goes further. Social media stimulates our brain because every moment we’re being engaged. When you’re away from that you’ll find that you’ve become addicted, and it’s that addiction that makes it hard to do anything else. When my brother and the 40 year old lumberjacks he work with see a picture of a cute animal or read a funny caption, for them it’s the funniest thing they’ve seen in awhile. For me it’s not even in the top ten things I’ve seen that morning. This has to be affecting who I am as a person in ways that are potentially frightening.