Friday, February 29, 2008

Binge Browsing

Hello, my name is Ann and I’m a Google addict. For a long time I didn’t think I had a problem. True, when I was home and sitting down, my laptop was usually in my lap. I could always claim I was writing. But a lot of the timeI wasn’t writing. I was “looking things up.” With my favorite search engine at my service, not the slightest curiosity went unsatisfied. Whatever I wanted to know, I could know it. Faust should have been so lucky, I thought.

Free of the tyranny of linear thinking, I’d bound from link to link as one thing reminded me of another and then another. Whatever ran through my mind quickly found expression in my Search History.

I didn’t even have to shut myself up in my office, thanks to the
further liberation of a wi-fi network. I could pursue my investigations
from anywhere in the house and I did. In bed. In front of the TV. On
the kitchen counter and the dining room table. Just as women used to
consider conversing and knitting to be complementary activities, I
could talk and web-browse at the same time – occasionally enlivening
the discussion with a choice morsel I’d come across. And with Google as
my home page, I was the family Answer Lady. “Let’s find out!” I’d say
brightly as soon as anyone ventured a question.

It’s a lucky stroke to have arrived at middle-age at roughly the same time as the Internet. I feel like I have an auxiliary brain. Can’t quite remember the name of the movie I saw last week? No need to wait until my memory reluctantly dredges it up. Just consult Mr. Google.

Needless to say, I have never liked to be parted from my laptop for long. But, thanks to a thief in Washington’s Union Station, I recently spent a webless week. The data were backed up and the machine itself was covered by insurance. But there was no reserve computer available and I was forced to go cold turkey.

Day one was brutal; I felt like someone had cut off my hands. Then I began to notice a contradictory dynamic: Everything took a lot longer to do, yet it felt like there was much more time. The “lot longer” part I had expected. Compared to going on, it seemed painfully labor-intensive to find a number in a phone book. (Not to mention that ours was years out of date.)

The surprise was that I had more time. Frustrating though it was to be
unable to search online for this or that, it slowly dawned on me that
most things I was so keen to look up, I didn’t actually need to know.
The days seemed to lengthen and I began to grasp what had happened to
all the time that had been disappearing from my life.

Where had I been?

On an extended tour of Wonderland, also known as the World Wide Web. I
think I understand why I find cyberspace so seductive. I’ve never been
happy following an orderly progression of ideas down a straight and
narrow path. A web is more my style. Lots of intriguing ways to get from here to there; lots of scenic detours to survey. And with the help of a willing and non-judgmental browser, you can explore each and every one. Taking all the time you want.

My new computer has arrived and I again appreciate its comforting weight on my lap. My Search History continues to serve as a kind of stream-of-consciousness autobiography. But my binge browsing days are over.

1 comment:

Grace Lichtenstein said...

Last night a neighbor casually mentioned "Lodi," in California, as a town where she and her son went tandem sky diving because it was such a boring place that was the one exciting thing they could do. I said "just like the Creedence song," meaning, of course, the one titled "Lodi." But I couldn't leave it at that. I went to my laptop and compulsively Googled the song & sent my neighbor the lyrics. Did she really want them? Probably not, but that's how Googly I have become.