Thursday, October 18, 2007

Emptiness and the Web

Hello, and welcome to one of the countless places online that your internet connection pulls ones and zeroes from. I'm here today to talk about that scourge of the information age, the World Wide Web.

When was the last time you felt good about yourself after spending time online? What did you do?

Last time I felt good about the web, I dropped a hundred bucks on various charities (Kiva, EFF, Public Citizen, and the Ubuntu Education Fund). Yikes, that certainly won't happen too often. But despite my ego, this post isn't to pat myself on the back, nor to demonstrate my financial short-sightedness.

For many cubicle-folk, the web is a good way to fritter away downtime between tasks. Nothing wrong with that, in fact, I'd say it's a pretty healthy transition between projects. At work, you might check the news, weather or sports, watch a stupid video, read an e-card, write an email, check Anton's blog, find out what friends are doing via myspace or facebook, etc.

But is that all there is?

Anyway, I'd like to pose a mental exercise to y'all, and I'd really appreciate your feedback in the comments. It seems only my snarkiest posts draw comments and disapproving emails from my mother (sorry mom! I'll call you soon!), but I'd like you to make an exception. The fate of America may be at stake.

Let's say you work a desk job, but minus the job part. You must be there from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. You have ZERO tasks to accomplish during the day. You have a computer with basic tools (browser, email, but no special software like GarageBand or even Photoshop). There are no filters on the internet. You just have to be there, dressed in business casual, and "blend in" - so no artistic projects or blatant trashy-novel-reading that might get you a "chat" with HR.

What do you do?

Read? What sites? Write? Code? Online freelance gigs? Study online in hopes of bettering yourself and landing a real job? Start a business? Learn a language? Play the stock market? Chat with babes online? How long do you think you could do these before you'd be burned out?

Not to influence answers, but part of my theory is that while computers are very powerful, the way we use them on a day-to-day basis severely limits our notions of what they can be used for. I'm interested in your input because I feel like I've had a "head-start" in the age of online communications (thanks for the modem, mom!), and I was very interested in this at a fairly young age. I just want to know what you'd do. There are no right or wrong answers, this is purely for my own research. Please put your pencil down when finished, no peeking at your neighbors' answers. Thanks!


Some Girl said...

Are you suggesting that my incessant checking of the Minneapolis Missed Connections and Overheard in New York is not a super enough thing for me to do on the internet?
What if I was blogging from Gate 8 at JFK? (oh, look. I am.)

No, you're right. Google Reader saves me all this time and then I just sit here looking at the internet like we have nothing left to say to one another. Then I check facebook.

I can't remember what I read before I read all these blogs. Oh, wait, it was, where I followed every link and commented and moderated and was basically a huge dork. I wish I was even doing something like that, but I'm not. And I'm certainly not at learning how to ask for the bathroom, like I ought to be.

Was this a good answer, or do I get an incomplete? I can't figure out what I should be doing with the internet anymore.

Molly said...

I woke up today knowing that I have exactly nothing to do at work. As my company transitions from one corporate giant to another I linger in the "all things on hold" area waiting to find out what my next task will be. I too stare blankly at the screen trying to figure out how to waste my day. I, unlike some, have CS2, Flash, and many other creative programs at my fingertips yet still, find no use for them as they are a part of my daily routine.
My goal is to learn a language but I get bored and find myself checking myspace, facebook, and playing stupid internet games.

Sometimes, I read Anton's blog but never follow the links ; )

knielsen said...

While I'd like to tell you that I'm learning a new language or taking MIT courses for free, the reality is that I manage to spend ungodly amounts of time online on pretty average sites (gmail, expedia, mapquest, myspace,, oregonlive, our blogs - which, by the way, are AWESOME). But for my job, the internet is a necessity - cluing me in to the maddening world of high school life (teachers, calendars, bell schedules, pep assemblies, etc). I also frequent food/cooking related sites. And Overheard Lines is good for an occassional giggle fest.

p.s. I like your attempt at soliciting comments... you know I'm always good for something sassy.

Megan said...

Well, when I'm not looking at celebrity hoo-has on, I like to read feminist blogs... it is important to my mental health to have other people commenting on the outrageous bullshit that happens in the world; I feel slightly less crazed and certainly less alone. Plus, being in school, I get absolutely all of my journal articles from online databases... if I had to go to the library and use a cardfile, there is seriously no way I would ever even attempt a dissertation, much less possibly complete one. But I also spend an inappropriate amount of time doing things like looking up houses for rent on Craig's List... in Portland, where I won't be moving until 2k9.

Basically, the internet lets me do a lot more things in the comfort of my own home, wearing pajamas and pretending I'm not actually an urban hermit.

jaimeneuman said...

This past summer I spent my days working at store with about 1 customer every 4 hours, so I guess I did have the job of doing nothing but searching the web. I've never felt like a bigger waste of space. First I checked my email, then myspace, then Then I would forget what other websites existed on this fancy machine, so I would check my email and myspace again. Sometimes I would look for a new job on craigslist, and then I'd check out the stuff for sale too. Not because I wanted to buy anything, but just because it's fun to shop, maybe? By mid-afternoon I'd be racking my brain trying to think up stores I could look up online, because I thought I would be able to steal their ideas for pretty dresses to make. Then I'd check my email and myspace and perezhilton again. Now I hate the internet. I have this thing where my brain freezes when I look at a computer. Does that mean I'm 1) too old for technology, 2) mentally challenged, or 3) completely lacking in the creativity department? YOU decide!
Oh yeah, I like reading blogs now though!