“I have the sensation, as do my friends, that to function as a proficient human, you must both ‘keep up’ with the internet and pursue more serious, analog interests. I blog about real life; I talk about the internet. It’s so exhausting to exist on both registers, especially while holding down a job. It feels like tedious work to be merely conversationally competent. I make myself schedules, breaking down my commute to its most elemental parts and assigning each leg of my journey something different to absorb: podcast, Instapaper article, real novel of real worth, real magazine of dubious worth. I’m pretty tired by the time I get to work at 9 AM.” – Alice Gregory, “Sad as Hell”
This book review of Gary Shteyngart’s “Super Sad True Love Story” is an analysis of the book, but also a thought-provoking evaluation of our physical and virtual realities. The quote above describes my exact emotions about being “conversationally competent” – I find it exhausting to try and keep up with daily happenings and latest news. And are we talking about keeping up with our country? Our friends and family? Our numerous inconsequential acquaintances? The world? It takes a good amount of will power to fend off the shame I’m compelled to feel when I don’t know the answer to “Did you hear about ______?”.
Gregory talks about her personal experiences with digital consumption: the constant barrage of information and the ever-increasing desire to consume it. “It’s like being demoted from the category of thinking, caring human to a sort of rat that doesn’t know why he needs to tap that button, just that he does.” (Gregory)
Gary Shteyngart, the author Gregory is analyzing, also speaks to the reality of our consumption and the very tangible ways it is changing us. “With each post, each tap of the screen, each drag and click, I am becoming a different person—solitary where I was once gregarious; a content provider where I at least once imagined myself an artist; nervous and constantly updated where I once knew the world through sleepy, half-shut eyes . . . With each passing year, scientists estimate that I lose between 6 and 8 percent of my personality.” – Gary Shteyngart
The idea of actually losing our personalities may seem ridiculous, but I challenge you to think about it in relation to your own life. Though computers and cell phones have been popular for a good portion of my existence, I remember a time before they were the lifeblood of our society. I remember a time before I compulsively checked any social media or email accounts to know what has happened in the 5 minutes I’ve left them unattended. I’d call a friend to catch up and, upon them sharing a funny story, I’d laugh loudly and thoroughly. Now, I can just check their profile, see a funny story or update and type “haha” or “lol”. Even though the internet is “widening” our communication abilities, it seems to be depersonalizing and devaluing them. “The internet is also making us troublingly self-sufficient,” notes Gregory. We no longer need the physical presence of other people to not feel alone – “to be on the internet is to never be alone.”
Gregory also points out that now “we live longer now. But we also live less.” Yes, the internet allows access to a global community and limitless information; we can see Mt. Everest, the latest romantic comedy or a lengthy Facebook newsfeed with a few swift key strokes, but I’d argue that we’re doing so at the expense of actually experiencing our lives.