Opinion » Maxed Out

The Internet: It's a love-hate relationship



Post B.C. Day, or whatever we're calling the long weekend formerly known as the Civic Holiday before so many of us became uncivil, there are times I feel as though I'm sliding languidly into the dog days of summer. But then, there are other times I feel as though I'm sliding frigidly into the next ice age in the peek-a-boo summer we've been enjoying this year. I'm not complaining. I'd rather have goosebumps the first day of August than watch the forest around me burn.

And let's face it, there are worse things to do on a cold summer's day than read trashy novels until the battery in your e-reader dies. But the fevered race between the end of the chapter and the end of battery life has left me wondering whatever became of the promises of technology. And wondering about that has let me stop fretting about our insufficient inventory of affordable housing, the unlivable wages paid in Tiny Town, the oozing traffic in our one-road-in, one-road-out mountain paradise, and other issues I sometimes tire of writing about. So I'm not going to this week.

As humorous and interesting as I personally find technology, it is still running light years behind my expectations. Frankly, I feel cheated. Technology has failed to deliver on most of its Gee Whiz promises and dished up way too many useless distractions.

My expectations for technological, life-enhancing quackery were forged by the popular press of the early '60s, when I was young and even more naive than I am today. For those of you who remember the early '60s not at all or only as a time your world consisted of waiting around for your diaper to be changed, they were pretty much like the '50s, which is to say safe and boring. For those of you who remember them from history books, trust me; the sixties didn't become what we think of today as the '60s until everyone started smoking pot, listening to hard rock, protesting whatever and having sex like promiscuous rabbits, compliments of the birth control pill.

Scientists and dreamers of the time gave me reason to expect some of the marvels I'd be using today would include such things as a vacuum cleaner needing no human assistance other than turning it on and sitting back while it sucked up the dirt from every corner of your home. Oh wait a minute; that kind of exists now, doesn't it? OK smartypants, what about edible dishes? I was promised edible dishes — presumably dessert flavoured — requiring no washing... ever! Just finish everything on your plate and then eat it too.

I still feel cheated I don't own a flying car, although even at the time I had a morbid fear of airborne car crashes raining debris from the sky onto my head, a fear I was assured science would have well under control by then. I'm still waiting for clothes that never get dirty. If your mother had believed God intended blue jeans to be dried on a clothesline, you'd be waiting for them too. I'm pretty sure my minimally articulating knees can be blamed more accurately on trying to squat in jeans stiff as boards than too many years playing catcher or skiing moguls.

Instead of any of those way-cool, useful wonders, technology has given us such miserable, motherless offspring as voice mail — press 1 to hear another pointless menu of useless choices, press 2 to listen to tasteless muzak while you wait for an operator that doesn't exist, press 3 if you're sorry you ever made this call, press 4 to hear once again how important your call is to us while we laugh and place bets on how long you'll wait before you give up — robo calling, phishing, drones, nascent driverless cars, fracking and politicians who hide behind bogus science to make "fact-based" decisions that ironically continue to enrich the same cabal of insiders decisions made in smoky back rooms have always enriched.

Oh sure, there are plenty of great examples of ways technology has made life better: mountain bikes that look as though they'd pedal themselves over boulder fields and down sheer cliffs; cars you don't have to tune-up for as long as you own them, as long as you don't own them too long; access to virtually every song that's ever been recorded; imaging machines that have almost removed the words "exploratory surgery" from modern vocabulary; and, of course, microwave ovens that allow me to easily heat and reheat the same cup of coffee three times and still forget to drink it because I'm distracted writing this pointless piffle.

The apex of great and pointless technology is the Internet. The Internet has, for me, often proven to be either the massive reference library I've always dreamed of or a complete waste of time. Of course, the same could be said for the National Enquirer or any other checkout stand newspaper. Oddly enough, the two are not so dissimilar, varying mostly in scope. If you look very hard at the National Enquirer — very hard — you're likely to find something factual slipped in between stories of alien visitation and reports of a cryogenically frozen Hitler being brought back to life. On the Internet you'll find a lot of pages devoted to both of those subjects as well.

If the Internet were a garden — my apologies but in the summer gardens are a constant source of wonder and back pain for me — you would find yourself walking between rows of fresh, organic vegetables on one side and rows of taco-flavoured Doritos on the other. You can get anything you want at Alice's Restaurant and lots of stuff you never dreamed existed on the Internet. You can live in Whistler Wonderland and take virtual trips to gang-infested urban neighbourhoods, drop in to chat at the local skinhead bar or pick up an Uzi and defend your kibbutz on the West Bank.

I don't visit these places often but the Internet is the Mr. Ask It I need whenever I need it. It's been years since I stumped the Internet, so thorough is its knowledge base. It's been so long I've stopped trying, amusing myself instead by asking Siri the meaning of life. Try it; it's an "open-the-pod-bay-door-HAL" kind of experience.

So on yet another overcast, threatening lightning and rain kind of ersatz summer day, I find myself trolling the Internet while the e-reader battery recharges and I finally get to find out who done it. Funny thing about the Internet though, the only thing I can't seem to find there these days is the inspiration for a column. Go figure.