Saturday, May 21, 2011

A Stoic Meditation on Not Having the Internet

The practice of Stoicism (at least in William Irvine's modern recapitulation) involves deliberately setting aside time to visualize and make peace with all the horrible things that could happen to you. This serves a two-fold purpose:

(1) You prepare yourself psychologically for the caprices that Lady Fortune may indeed have in store for you,


(2) You wake up from your self-imposed nightmares with a kind of survivor's euphoria, to the effect that you cherish the opportunity to change a diaper, and the river of brake lights in five o'clock traffic is just, well . . . beautiful.

This practice works for me. (Though I do have a particularly weird and cheesy constitution: one of my early childhood memories is of being reduced to an almost tearful thankfulness over having been born a man and not a raccoon.)

So today I found myself thinking about who I would have been if the internet never existed. You should ask yourself too. It's fun. But me first:

  • Without the internet I would have never discovered the art, music, and books that I live through. Holy Lord. If I hadn't found Danny Schmidt, would I know what a poem was? My local bookstores and libraries don't carry Schmidt. They also don't carry out-of-print hedonistic commentaries on Chuang Tzu. And nowhere, ever, have I seen a poster of this:

    The internet's ability to enable profitable business models catering to geographically dispersed long-tail customers created a world in which I could be me, and not just some grown-up extension of one of the five locally available stock models of high school personae (prep, jock, stoner, geek, cowboy.)

  • Without the internet I wouldn't be able to do much. My high school didn't have courses in computer programming. They also didn't teach me that you can make Arabic sounding music with Phrygian scales.

  • Without the internet I would have never gotten jobs. When I gigged as a textbook writer, I'd send thirty emails a day to folks in various countries offering my skills. I made the process semi-automatic with form letters and a craigslist-to-OPML program. I've been told by my workmates that the resume bullets from that season in my career are what got me out of the dark mire of adjunct professordom and into college administration. How on earth did people find gigs before? By looking only at their local papers' listings?

  • Without the internet I'd be missing out on some amazing friendships. When you first meet someone, even if you really like them, it's just plain weird to say "Hey dude, I click with you. Wanna be lifelong friends?" Calling someone days after an introduction and a 30 second conversation to propose hanging out is even creepier (unless you're making a romantic advance; then it can be cool and gutsy.) But friending someone you barely know on Facebook is easy. And then commenting. And then corresponding. And then hanging out...

  • Without the internet I wouldn't be able to write. In the realms of pre-internet media, one either comes to the publisher/editor/gatekeeper with mad skills and gets published, or he gets a generic pink slip with a one-line apology. You can't use this system of rejection to make yourself much better. But with blogging, things are different. If every time you write a more sarcastic post you get double the pageviews, you know that the sarcastic thing is working for you. You can try out different voices, registers, and angles, and see what happens. You can literally chart the effects of your different approaches. And when five guys on Hacker News call you an ass, you're probably being too much of an ass.

The sum effect of it all? I think that without the internet I would be less inspired, less skilled, and certainly bereft of the life-drunk night-swimming absinthe posse. And it's not an absurd thing to think about. Most people on earth don't have the internet.

We're lucky. Know that.

And tell me about who you would be. Your turn.

  Buy me a coffee to support posts like this.

  (Or, you know, a house. If you're just like a bored billionaire or something.)


  1. I had my job , in computing , before the internet was commonplace for people in the UK. Early nineties in UK and it was DOS and windows 1.0 and token ring networks. but I had a job in computing before the internet was a thing to businesses and homes. but I digress.

    When I was at school ( and I didnt get to goto university ) I was told I didnt have the qualifications to get a job in programming and computers apparently I lacked A-levels and a Degree path.

    Thankfully I had an interest in creating and building with my hands and stagecraft and carpentry looked to be interesting. So I learnt to use tools and to be good at building and joining. I dont use those skills as much today as I would had I gone on to become a carpenter but I feel happy today that should I choose to change my career away from the internet then I Know there is a large amount of work available to plumbers, carpenters, mechanics and builders. About the only thing I see them need is a good cup of tea.

  2. The Internet can be taken away from us, like radio before it became a monopoly broadcasting medium. Many forces are trying to do that right now. Al Franken is one of many trying to stop it. YOu have motivation to help him.

  3. Thank God and Al Gore for the internet. But you WERE born a raccoon.

  4. If the internet never existed....well, I would be still developing things for client server applications in token rings based networks.

    I would be incredibly bored, because life with two kids left you only some time at nights to see "something interesting" to think about. I would have to schedule a day to go to library and check out things that editors publish for SouthAmerica (not a very broad set of books!, sadly)

    I would be veeeery less connected with other people, just depending on the phone.... and I'm not a "phone talker" person, I'd rather hang out with a beer in a bar, but again, with two kids, with which time?

    Still be buying music at the store, and actually, this is something that I really miss...there where some interesting stores with people with real knowledge about music...they all are closed now.

    and for sure, I wouldn't be writing in this blog, reading something that made me think about an alternative I hadn't imagine, that was written by a person I had never met, and that I have noticed from someone that I've only heard about him once in a tweet.

    I think that even doe I had lost some things that I've liked because of the internet....I cannot imagine a life without the connection with all the knowledge, thoughts and other weird things that other humans have in this world.