Monday, April 11, 2011

The Ghost in the Machine

I love the internet. And I hate the internet. I'm sure I'm not alone in this. I love the fact that I can keep in touch with my friends and family instantly. I've never been a great letter writer or good at calling regularly. But I am able to check Facebook and "like" something or comment on a photo. And somehow, this makes me feel better. I am in touch with friends I would never have reconnected with if it weren't for this amazing technology. I have even made some friends through message boards or online support groups.

I love the fact that I can shop for clothes or music or books from the comfort of my couch. I love to be able to look up any topic and learn about it immediately. I love to watch movies and TV and videos right at the moment I want to watch them. I have always loved instant gratification. Don't we all?

But it is a double-edged sword. For one thing, anything you write in an email or post online is open to the reader's interpretation. It is this issue that makes me hesitant to start a blog. I've resisted doing one until now, and I am ready to pull the plug at any time. I never kept a diary for the same reason. I might buy one and write a few entries and then think "What if I get hit by a bus and somebody finds this and reads it?" So I would immediately tear out the pages and destroy them. Because of this, there will hardly be any record of my thoughts. I suppose I can live with that. Or not.

I'm always amazed at the letters and documents that still exist for people from long ago. A new biography was just published about Ghandi with surprising (and disturbing) information that no one knew until now. How can that be? He's so famous and yet no one knew that he slept with his nieces in the nude? Or that he was a homosexual? By the way, it's that first part that is disturbing and the second one that is surprising. Just in case someone reads this and misinterprets my meaning.

The other thing I don't like is the temptation to look up and read things that you are probably not supposed to read. I have always felt strongly that you shouldn't read someone else's letters or diary. You might just read something that upsets you. You take that chance when you do it. The internet is the same. Google a family member or friend and you could discover that they keep a blog that doesn't mention you. Or does mention you but in a negative way. You might find pictures from a baby shower or party to which you weren't invited. Or they are a white supremacist. Or (heaven forbid) a Buddhist.

My feeling is that if you are going to look at these things, you have to be willing to deal with the consequences. You really can't get mad at someone for information that you shouldn't have had in the first place. If someone wants me to know something, I figure they'll tell me. If they don't, they won't. And if I'm going to go poking around on the internet, I'll have to develop a thick skin.

All of this is to say that I understand the urge to do it. I've done it myself. It's too tempting. Remember that Sharon Stone/William Baldwin movie where he owns an apartment building and has cameras in every unit that he watches on these TV's in a secret room? Well, you may think you wouldn't want to do that but you would be kidding yourself. You'd watch it until your eyes sunk back in your head. That's why reality TV is popular. It's human nature.

But I have tried to have some self-control and not look at things I shouldn't. I'm not talking about XXX sites (I really don't look at that or have any interest). I'm just talking about looking at the personal ramblings of your friends or family. Or doing a background check on any ol' person you feel like.

Of course, I'm writing all of this on the same internet I'm criticizing. And hoping that those same friends and family follow my blog and read it. But it wouldn't be the first time I felt conflicted about something. And I'm sure it won't be the last.

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