This time of year Grahamstown begins to bustle with Festival preparations, of which water and power maintence always seems to be a part of. Sure enough, at six o’clock this morning, I awoke to the light of my emergency lamp. No electricity, no Internet connection. I was planning on studying anyway. But as I turned the pages of my reader in the silence of the morning, the absence of Facebook and Google became more apparent than a polar bear in a jungle. Despite the lack of Internet, my thoughts were consumed by it.
A week and a half ago, reports started to circulate of a Russell Shirley who died whilst playing Diablo III. Before that, news of Chris Staniforth, who suffered a blood clot after playing Halo for 12 hours a day, was doing the rounds. Then there was that South Korean couple whose baby died whilst they were nurturing their virtual infant online. It would most certainly be a stretch to suggest that all of us suffer from a gaming or Internet addiction. It would be harder to deny that we have developed a need for constant entertainment.
The accuracy of these stories is perhaps questionable, as many are reported on gaming forums and blogs, as opposed to ‘legitimate’ news websites. Although to the extreme, they nevertheless point to an incessant compulsion to be online all of the time. Nicholas Carr would certainly agree. As he writes in The Shallows – tuning out is not an option many of us would consider.
The Internet is indeed changing our brains, robbing us of our concentration, engendering in all of us some form of ADHD. Neuroscientists have proven that our technological habits can and will weaken existing circuits in our brain and create new ones. Lest we worry about synaptic plasticity, only centuries from now will we be able to understand the consequences of this technological revolution and in the meantime, there is not much we can do about it.
But that in itself is troubling, for technology’s toll extends beyond mere physiological modification. It is also changing the way that we connect. Real-time conversations turn to monologues as people tap-tappity-tap away on their cell phones. Confrontations are made over G-talk or BBM where messages are saved for further scrutiny and shared for fickle support. Invitations to events are accepted and declined over Facebook without any holding in the real world, leaving hosts to play roulette with their guest lists.
Will our attention forever be held by instant messaging pings and newsfeed tickers? Is this the end of the line for manners and common courtesies? Will we never again be content to spend a day under a tree reading a book? The Internet is of course an integral part of our modern lives, and has served us in many ways at which life before it failed. But it seems to have come at a price – one which goes largely unnoticed or is ignored, one which crept up on me in the silence of this morning, in thoughts inspired by a dead connection, shared with you through a restored one.
Placidity, wherefore out thou?