Michael B. Duff

Lubbock's answer to a question no one asked

Duff: How I tried to live without Google


I started out bravely enough. Three weeks without the Internet, how bad could it be?

I’ve always had a love/hate relationship with the Net. For every good thing it brought me, there was an equal measure of pain. The Internet brings us news, jokes and instant communication. It also brings us spam, paranoia and intimate contact with crazy people.

So when a medical emergency forced me to move in with my dad for a while, I figured it was no big deal.

The Internet has made me smarter, but it’s also wasted a lot of my time. So when the AT&T guy said installation would take three weeks, I wasn’t scared. I saw it as an opportunity. I wouldn’t spend hours wilting in front of a computer screen; I would exercise and read books. I would immerse myself in the real world and emerge, like Thoreau, from the woods.

I looked on this as the beginning of a spiritual journey. For three weeks, I would turn my back on technology and spend my days reading, walking and basking in the sun.

I would hang up my iPod and turn off the radio. For the duration, I wouldn’t even watch TV. I could rediscover the joys of conversation and get closer to my dad.

And that’s where things started to go wrong.

My father is a very curious man. He’s curious about everything, and he loves to ask questions. Religion, politics, philosophy, physics – my father wants to know everything. And somewhere down the line, he decided that I was smart.

I’m not sure when this happened. I thought I was pretty smart from the ages of 14 to 19, but I seem to get dumber with each successive birthday. By the time I hit 40, I’ll need a diagram to tie my shoes.

But every night I would sit at the dinner table and dad would ask me questions.

“Who invented the toilet?”

“How big is the universe?”

“Does the Bible contradict Texas marriage law?”

“Where can I find Woody’s Cook-In Sauce?”

I don’t know the answer to those questions, but Google does. I could look like a genius and answer all of dad’s questions; all I needed was an Internet connection. And that’s when it hit me. I hadn’t just taken a three-week vacation from the Internet, I had cut off access to an essential part of my brain.

I thought of Net access as a luxury, but trying to live without it was like trying to live without a dishwasher or a vacuum cleaner or a microwave oven. These devices may be luxuries in one sense, but they are an essential part of modern life.

The Internet gives me access to the collective store of human knowledge. With it, I’m as smart as an army of Ph.Ds. Without it, I’m just a dumb guy who can type fast.

Yes, the Internet can be a waste of time. It can disrupt relationships and deliver inappropriate material to children. But it’s also a tool, and just like a dishwasher or a vacuum cleaner, once you get used to it, it’s very hard to give it up.

I don’t use instant messaging as much as I used to, but I’m addicted to e-mail, and I can’t live without my RSS feeds. My desktop is like a NATO command center, constantly streaming in news alerts and live video. My day job keeps me immersed in local news, but stuck at home without a Net connection, all my usual sources were cut off. I didn’t know we had a new mayor until dad took his sign down. Is Bush still president? I should probably look that up.

Oh, and for the record: The flush toilet was invented by J.F. Brondel in 1738; human beings can measure the universe to a diameter of 28 billion light years; Romans, Chapter 13 says men should obey their rulers; and the best barbecue sauce ever made can now be found at United Supermarkets.

Thank God I have Net access at work.

Written by Michael B. Duff

May 30, 2008 at 13:34

Posted in Columns

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