What is the internet? 3.5 hypotheses

According to people who know me, I have a theory for everything. I don’t want to disappoint them. So here goes.

The internet, in my opinion, is:

1. An endless cocktail party. Put it another way: a somewhat awkward social arena where people pretend to like each other but what they’re REALLY doing is trying to “network.” And that means: use each other to advance their own agendas, get a book contract, impress the rich and famous, and so on. Yes, Twitter users, I’m talking about you. (Wait a minute … I’m on Twitter …)

2. A drunken encyclopedia. The internet is packed full of wonderful information about everybody and everything in the world, but it gives that information to you along with a stream of ravings that seem to be alcohol-induced. Or drug-induced, take your pick. It’s kind of like going to a cocktail party with an astrophysicist who can unravel the intricacies of string theory for you, but to get that wonderful insight, you have to withstand his irrelevant musings on everything from Walmart to presidential politics. And you never know what word will trigger a meaningless tirade. Oh, and you’re not sure if he’s actually an astrophysicist, or just a crackpot pretending to be one.

3. A badly designed media portal. This really fits under number 2, in a sense. Instead of “information” insert “media”: images, sound clips, and video. By badly designed, I mean that there’s no larger organizing principle. The thing was (is) put together in a free-for-all and the organizers came later and are doing what they can. It reminds me of a used bookstore where the owners ran out of time to put the endless acquisitions of more books in any sensible order. And like that bookstore, you can spend a lot of time wading through trash, spurred on by the hope that you’ll come across something awesome, like a first-edition Hemingway. Of course, you never do, but sometimes you come across a book by an author your friend was telling you about three years ago and you think … hmm, it’s only a quarter. (So maybe I pressed that analogy a little too far.)

Why am I writing about this? Stay with me here …

If number 3 is a subset of number 2, then, in my theory, there are basically two things that the internet is. And you can use it for one or the other, but almost nobody uses it for both at the same time. There’s just one exception that comes to mind: namely, when you ask the drunken encyclopedia a question and it accidentally introduces you to someone who might help promote your career.

Now, drumroll please: What does that mean for a blog? Which is it? And the better question: Why are people reading it? Are you a step in their self-promotional designs? (Am I allowed to say that out loud?) Are you a drunken source of potentially useful information? Are you entertainment value? (Don’t forget, that’s a subset of the “drunken source” theory.)

What do you think?

Wait–that reminds me–there’s one more. People also use the internet to know that they aren’t alone. To make their voices heard. To connect with people like themselves. Which is to say that blogs are also:

4. Badly edited books. I say “badly edited” because, let’s face it, how long do you think I spent writing this post and editing it? What kind of an idiot would conclude the thing and then add a number 4? But a book, literature, does all of those things: connects people with others like themselves, lets people express themselves, their joy and their rage, and connects people together, gives them a sense of belonging. A badly edited one does that sort of like a drunken encyclopedia would.

So I guess you can add that to the list of options for why people write (and read) blogs.

Now I’m done. Your turn.

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