Four and a half years ago we disposed of our television because we found it eating up our evenings after work. Indeed, in the wake of the collapse of the Twin Towers in New York, we felt we had to sit glued to every news broadcast… the end of the Six O’Clock News, all of Channel Four News, the 10 O’Clock News and most of Newsnight, with the light entertainment of Scrap Heap Challenge in between. I am glad my wife agreed with me when I suggested we rid ourselves of the black box in the living room. Freedom! Time!
But what replaced it? Work when I was self-employed, and now — too often — the Internet or random tinkering with computers. Technology, they say, is altering our horizons, bringing the world closer together and making our lives much easier. Yes, I can talk to my friend in Bahrain for free using voice-over-internet telephony. Yes, my wife can have a conversation with her sister in Turkey on MSN — and see her at the same time. Yes, I can collaborate with colleagues across three continents using Yahoo Groups. Yes, all of this is true. But I can — and do — waste my time with greater ease than ever before, just doing, well, nothing.
Recognising my lack of self-restraint, I have tried all sorts of solutions over the years. I have put Content Advisor into action on Internet Explorer and deliberately forgotten the password, but found that annoying when I wanted to access the web for legitimate reasons. Nowadays it is possible to put an invisibility cloak on Firefox which turns websites blank before an hour of my choosing and limit the availability of the internet to a length of time of my choice. I suspect the only real solution — short of me discovering immense self-control — is ditching the modem as we did the TV, though that may require greater justification. The Internet connects us across borders to family overseas and provides the language link for my other half.
Using the Internet is eating away at the short time between my birth and death. I have so much to do, but still squander the wealth we have in seconds, minutes and hours, and all that is left is regret. Last night I sat down to do some typesetting, but never even got as far as starting Quark Xpress. Two hours later there was just that sense of regret again. So here I am now, evaluating my reading — or looking — as well as my writing. What are those things we will be asked about? How we used our youth before our old age?
If I can, if I can generate the will and the self-control, I may just fast the Internet for a while. While I will treat myself to Reciter, excepting this great aid, I can see myself trying to give up the World Wide Web, to pull the plug and quit. Time is of the essence. Reaching the end of this post, how do you feel? Was it worth spending 2 minutes reading down to here? Did you learn anything new? No, I only told you what you’re already certain of: the clock is ticking, our time is short and we’re wasting it away surfing the Internet. We need to learn how to live as those before us lived. Progress, change: these are only good for us if we know where we are going. And we don’t seem to have a clue.