I was thinking today about the cruelty of the Internet for a lifelong reader. I barely kept up with books and magazines and one newspaper. Barely? No, I didn’t keep up. I was always awash with words, a printed ocean of facts, fantasy and information. More words than I could consume in a lifetime. A rich experience of the world, through history, imagination, travel, cooking, gardening, healing… I could go on, endlessly, about the smorgasbord of delicious words I enjoyed.
Then the web arrived and the tempting mountain of words became the Swiss Alps. Suddenly I was (frankly, am still) like a child alone, without instruction or experience in finding my way. The avalanche of words and images and sounds does not stop, ever. And it is a kind of torture for this word-loving geek.
On the Internet I sometimes read/taste a sample of a philosophical piece or a political analysis that is way over my head, way above my pay grade. There are threads in these articles that intrigue me, but where is the quiet time to try and parse them? Then (somehow?) I am swept along and literally waste minutes reading an article of supermarket tabloid value. Why? Because its there. Some word catches my eye and my finger responds, clicking a link and I’m gone. It’s not that I haven’t read People Magazine in a waiting room or even purchased it when going vacation, but some of the places the web links take me are embarrassing trash heaps. I can scurry away, but I can’t really erase the smudge of cheap ink.
Yes, I read some bona fide news and I’m glad of the information. Yes, there are poems that I read aloud (if I am home alone, this is always a great pleasure.). I’ve found some pretty wonderful things when following a chain of links, but how do they compare, really, to the linking chain of authors I followed as a young woman, a young writer?
A poet would mention another poet she admired and I would check them out. Reading the prose of an author I loved, she would refer to obscure writers from the past, those who had given her sustenance and I would set out to find them. Even fictional characters would sometimes give me a lead to a writer who then opened a new world for me.
Yes, yes, we can do this on the web; the Internet universe is limitless and while that is a great thing, it is also what frightens me. Too deep, broad and vast, like those snowy alpine slopes, I am left feeling… well, adrift is the word that comes to mind. Nice word. It applies to both image trains: the enormous amounts of snow and also floating about, sans anchor, in an endless sea.
Which reminds me about the speed element. Like any other Internet browser, my desire for faster access to the next thing is persistent. My habitually minor need for instant gratification is triggered, as are both a brief attention span and a need for stimulus! These urges, which I consider unhealthy and detrimental to both my own soul and the life of the planet, are stoked by the abundance laid out before me.
Lest this appear to be a diatribe against a fantastical tool of our times, as well as a futile railing against a fact of life, let me say that it is not. Allow me to return to my original thought, which is that access to the World Wide Web of words is a form of torture for a word lover and a voracious reader like myself. It is naughty (but then I am a proud ‘naughty woman’ of 2016) that the image of water boarding comes to my mind, but there it is. Tortured by being helplessly immersed in a tub of words.
This is the complaint of a ‘first world’, privileged person; I know that. I am humbled to remember that overindulgence is the bane and burden of very few. I am among them and now I am going to add these words to the ever-expanding heap (picture trash or pristine snow, your choice) of words available on the World Wide Web. My apologies.