Every time I go out to dinner with my husband I find myself making observations. I often spy tables of young, 20-somethings gathered together rapt in lengthy, exciting conversations about particle physics, astronomy, transhumanism and its moral and social implications. These characters are immersed in delightful exchange and solving life’s riddles with the uninhibited giddiness that only a young brain with a dash of absinthe could achieve.
I’m only kidding, of course. What I actually see happening all around me is a new social phenomenon of sorts. While people still make the effort to go out to dinner with their “friends”, the eating part of the experience is the only thing they are doing together. For instance, I see people sitting physically beside each other at these tables. Their corporeal bodies are roughly 6-12 inches away from the individual sitting next to them; their minds, however, couldn't be further away from each other. Instead of a head and neck projected upward, attentive to the speech of their friends, the head and trunk of their body is projected downward, absorbed into a gadget with a flashing screen—a far more tantalizing prospect. This is a rather new social occurrence, the latest trend in gathering that may be here to stay. I call it the, “Let’s get together and ignore each other” phenomenon.
A new realization has burgeoned. An awakening has swept across humanity. People have finally realized that other people (friends, family, acquaintances) in their 3-dimensional form have very little to offer so they have naturally turned to the 2-dimensional universe within their phones. Why engage with the 3-dimensional imbecile sitting next to you when you can watch far more perfect people on the internet? Why deal with the awkward blathering of the junior high-school drop-out sitting beside you when you can listen to perfectly knowledgeable speech from a PhD on the interface of your phone?
Just kidding again! Rarely do I see people using their phones to listen to presentations offered by scientists or to learn the etymology of words or even research global happenings. Instead, they are on a quest to far more sophisticated searches, like the latest picture of Kim Kardashian after shedding her baby weight or opening facebook to declare “I’m out to dinner with friends” while they ignore their corporeal friends to look at pictures and statuses of their facebook friends.
Is life really simply better when you’re in cyberspace? Have we created a society where external stimulation could never compare to the stimulation of the inner-world, the internet? Does the stimulation provided by the internet (like that of a fast food restaurant) appeal more to our base desires? Are there statistics to even back up this suggestion?
I think it is because of this: The internet offers the user unlimited options. The internet is, quite frankly, the apex of choice. Don’t like the way someone looks sitting beside you at the table? Find someone on the internet that looks better. Don’t appreciate the limited humor abilities of your friends at the table? Find a comedian on the internet with more skill, better delivery and more original content. Don’t enjoy listening to disheartening or bland discussions about a television show, dream or someone’s recurring medical problem? Find a youtube video or open up facebook to find far more exciting postings that actually engage your attention—as if the content was customized just for you!
Without a doubt the internet offers the individual options that could never be found in the real, 3-dimensional world. With more options, we are more apt to find exactly what we are looking for. Once there we can tune out the obnoxious chatter of the 3D people sitting beside us (they are doing the same thing to us, mind you.)
Perhaps the internet is just making the real world appear far more boring by comparison. Or, in a slightly different vein, it is making us, as people, more boring individuals.