Another day, another guest blogger. That would be me, Brigette Russell of Moralia, pinch hitting for MIT Mommy while she's away on her three week internet-free vacation. If you can call being away from the internet for three weeks a vacation, that is. Personally, I'd call it the first, or maybe even the second, circle of Hell.
But MIT Mommy's being a good sport about it all, wrote a clever post called My wireless, analog laptop before she left, with a photo of a journal and a pen. Her husband wanted her to leave the world wide web behind on their trip, and being a devoted, loving wife, she agreed. I'd have probably said, "Oh, honey, you have such a clever, off-beat sense of humor!" and packed up my laptop and wireless card.
Then again, my husband would never ask me for such a sacrifice, since he's even more of an internet addict than I am. Three weeks off-line? I think it would kill the poor man.
All this got me thinking about the Luddite strain in our culture that deplores the internet as something that is somehow corrupting us. Google makes us dumber. So does Facebook. Becoming accustomed to the convenience of a BlackBerry makes you some kind of sick addict, hence the term CrackBerry. Pompous academic windbags repeat all of the above, but in more tortuous language.
Despite the fact that it's full of disgusting porn, unsubstantiated Wikipedia articles, spam and bad writing, I love the internet. I don't have to look at the parts of it that are distasteful to me (Yahoo mail does a great job of spam filtering, so I don't have to see the obscene photos in the spam e-mails I used to get on Earthlink) and its benefits far outweigh its drawbacks.
I read quite a few newspapers online, and not a single tree is felled bringing them to me. I save countless hours and gallons of gas doing most of my shopping online. I keep in touch with a great many friends who have moved away (or stayed put while I moved away), friends with whom I might have lost touch if we had to rely on mail and long distance phone calls. Since I have four small children, my telephone time is limited. As any mother will tell you, the quickest way to turn a child who is calmly entertaining herself into an attention-starved monster is to pick up the telephone.
And then there are the friends I would never have made if it weren't for the internet. Friends like MIT Mommy. Friends like the moms on my baby lists. These are e-mail lists I joined when I was pregnant with my first and second babies. Each list contains 10 or 11 ladies who have become really good friends over the past 8 and 6 years, respectively. Some of us have met in real life, others remain online-only friends, but friends we are.
The internet is what you make of it. Some people use it for pursuits that may indeed make them dumber. Others use it to enrich their lives in countless ways -- and still have friends in real life, and still read books, and still do all the things people did before the internet existed (except maybe do some of the dreary, tiresome shopping we had to do in person, and kill a lot of trees to read the newspaper).
MIT Mommy is one of those who uses the internet to enrich and uplift rather than to degrade and dumb down. I hope she's enjoying her internet-free vacation. I also hope that next year she gets to bring a laptop.