I’m checking facebook on my cell phone. I see I’ve got a new message. I click on the 💬 button but am greeted, no, not by my message, but by a black screen: “Please turn on notifications,” it says starkly at the top. Below it, as if to soften the blow, the screen explains, “The app works best when you and your friends can see new messages right away.” It then gives me step-by-step directions explaining how to turn on instant message notifications on my phone.
I’m feeling alone. The work day is slow: I don’t yet have a lot to do, being new. But, oh wait! According to my phone I have ten new messages in my email inbox . . . Never mind that they’re all from credit card companies or people I don’t know. Maybe I’m not so alone after all.
“Did you look at Yahoo this morning?” “No. Why?” “Just go look at it. Tell me what you think.” “Think about what?” “Just look!” “Uhh . . . Okay, okay.”
• • •
When I was a kid, the only way to look up the news was to read a newspaper or watch the evening news. The only way to get in touch with a friend was to call them up (on a landline) or to pass notes in class or write a letter — and send it via snail mail. I didn’t get a cell phone until I was in high school, and I didn’t have a texting plan until long after that. And I distinctly remember the first time I ever heard of MySpace (at an evening service in college) and Facebook (a friend convinced me to sign up so we could stay in touch over the summer). I remember that the very idea of a social network site seemed strange to me. Why would I want to use something like that?
How times have changed.
But have they changed for the better?
These days, even when I try to decrease my online time, I’ve got applications telling me I’m better off not. “I’m here! I’m here!” the Internet calls. “You’re better off because I’m here!”
Am I really?
Yes, I can now buy groceries, go clothes shopping, read the news, look for jobs, “follow” my friends’ lives, look up words, track races, watch games, and so much more — all on my computer — thanks to the Internet. But . . . Did you read the conversation about Yahoo above? For all that we’ve gained, how much have we lost?