I probably should have explained the purpose of this blog before the first article. The name Internet Rehab may seem odd, especially when humanity looks up in awe at the starry brightness of cyberspace.
But what if this starry brightness is blinding us from a path leading over a cliff? What if our civilization has already toppled into an abyss, plunging faster into chaos than a Facebook stock?
That’s where Internet Rehab comes in. Someone has to at least try and catch you before going too deep into the rabbit hole.
There is plenty of writing highlighting the dangers of the web on our collective and personal consciousness. Yet it was Niall Ferguson’s article, Don’t Believe the Techno-Utopian Hype, that made me look away from the brightness of cyberspace and into the abyss. It’s an excellent piece warning against patting our shoulders too much in an age of Wonderland gadgets and virtual Edens. This is the section I found alarming:
My pessimism is supported by a simple historical observation. The achievements of the last 25 years were actually not that big a deal compared with what we did in the preceding 25 years, 1961-1986 (e.g. landing men on the moon). And the 25 years before that, 1935-1960, were even more impressive (e.g. splitting the atom). In the words of Peter Thiel, perhaps the lone skeptic within a hundred miles of Palo Alto: In our youth we were promised flying cars. What did we get? 140 characters.
It doesn’t sound that apocalyptic, but the caution is there. Yes, the future is so bright we will eventually wear shades that surf the internet.Forget about curing cancer or eliminating hunger—just post a link on a social network on these issues and then wash your touchpads.
And those shades will look very good while waiting in line ten hours for the next Iphone.
Of course, generational achievements are relative and ultimately neutral. Space exploration and the nuclear dawn can be widely criticized for various reasons, Kaboom! being the main one. But both breakthroughs and their impact had something we have lost in the 21st century:
Going to the moon symbolizes mankind’s heroic desire to explore outer reality. Splitting the atom represents humanity’s voyage into inner reality, and that includes the human psyche. Both milestones challenged us to see into a glass darkly no more, often paying a high price for it. But we gained so much perspective.
What exactly does our era of smartphones and celebrity tweets offer us? What existentialist insights can we gather from winsome cat graphics and their Zen arrogance? Will salvation come once there isn’t a Firefox upgrade that doesn’t ruin my day?
I do know this: You can’t fight The Matrix by creating a new one inside it. You can’t be an Inception Agent if there are no dreams of exploring outer and inner realities. You can enjoy the fire of the gods Prometheus offers if you spend hours arguing about the box-office receipts of the movie Prometheus.
So my jagged little Red Pill will be this column. I will attempt to move your attention away from the starry brightness of cyberspace, wielding satire, parody and humor. I plan to succeed in one of the three by the next time we land on the moon. Or fall too deep into the rabbit hole.
Even if this column goes by the way of the MySpace dodo, hopefully humanity will gain enough perspective to avoid yet another cliff (Kaboom!). We can once again attempt to see through a glass darkly no more, perhaps enjoy a sunny day after removing those shades that digitally flash the latest Lady Gaga tweet.
Maybe this is all hopeless as Neo fighting the Matrix, already too many Agent Smiths devouring our last Oracles. Maybe the odds are as low as Sean Bien making it alive through a fantasy series. If this is the case, humanity’s grave at the bottom of the abyss is already prepared. We don’t know exactly what will be written on the tombstone. But, as my friend Jim West says, we do know one thing:
It will be written in 140 characters or less.