Monday, March 17, 2008

Rise Up!

I was reading in the New York Times this weekend that the Encyclopedia Britannica is phasing out its print editions, in favor of online versions. The same goes for other encyclopedia companies as well. This struck the same chord of horror and disgust that I felt years ago, when I first read Nicholson Baker and became aware of the endangered state of card catalogues and print newspapers. Horrifying. It’s been a while since I’ve read Baker—but I do remember him obsessively buying bound newspapers from libraries, collections that were on their way to the trash, and stockpiling them in his garage or barn or some other structure. I was so inspired by (terrified by?) Baker that I purchased my own card catalogue, and I aspire to one day acquiring the card catalogue from the Connellsville Carnegie Library as well, cards and all.

I’ve never had an encyclopedia, and I admit that if I did, it would probably get just as much usage as my thesaurus and dictionary currently do—that is to say, not much. It’s just so much faster and easier to go to the online thesaurus or dictionary—Lord Forbid I should look away from my computer or—Heavens!—actually rise from my desk during the day. Yet I still feel powerfully, stridently opposed to eliminating the print versions. It’s not nostalgia; it’s not resistance to technology (although I am 100% resistant to items like the Kindle and anything that resembles an e-book). I just feel like transitioning completely to an online world is the wrong, the very wrong, way to go.

This little rant has little cohesion, but no matter. I was telling Andrew this weekend that I’m just so tired of the internet. The social networking sites that invite pre-adolescents to communicate with pedophiles and harass each other to the point of suicide; the electronic tie-ins of children’s toys that make every stuffed animal a character in some elaborately contrived and empty-minded online universe; the fact that young kids hanker more for techie toys than for charming wooden blocks or art supplies; the websites that invite college students to post reputation-demolishing rumors about their classmates—anonymously, of course.

It all holds no interest for me, and I just feel like the online fixation is going to reach some inevitable and hideous end—surely, it can’t continue on this way, getting worse and more vapid and dangerous with every new website peopled with just the kind of folks you’d edge away from in the grocery store. Hideous, all of it.

I’m going to start a movement to shove the internet back where it belongs. I propose that we do away with everything online except the following: email; store/company websites; online stores like Amazon and Etsy; online versions of newspapers; Google Maps (but not the satellite applications); Mapquest; websites for professional individuals; and my blogs. We should teach kids to write letters, not to “text”! We should read books, not screens! We should have conversations about real topics with our friends and family, not about vapid subjects with strangers on “message boards”! We need to ensure that we continue to get out of bed every morning and move through the world with our five (or six!) senses intact—instead of letting "avatars" do our living for us! Rise up, humans! Rise up!

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