The Weekly Review

by Chris Bowler

In another piece I can’t quite agree with, Nathan Jurgenson opines that we’ve turned being offline into a fetish. And a not-so-very-useful one. He starts by describing the current state of things:

Fueled by such insights into our lost “reality,” we’ve been told to resist technological intrusions and aspire to consume less information: turn off your phones, log off social media, and learn to reconnect offline. We should go out into the “real” world, lift our chins, and breathe deep the wonders of the offline …

But then he lists how this is a problem. We’ve made so much hoopla of going offline that we’re not even able to focus on the benefits of being disconnected:

But as the proliferation of such essays and books suggests, we are far from forgetting about the offline; rather we have become obsessed with being offline more than ever before. We have never appreciated a solitary stroll, a camping trip, a face-to-face chat with friends, or even our boredom better than we do now.

And:

What a ridiculous state of affairs this is. To obsess over the offline and deny all the ways we routinely remain disconnected is to fetishize this disconnection.

And so he claims the problem is that we treat this as a binary scenario: you are either online or offline. Jurgenson makes the case that we need to recognize it’s a spectrum and we’re always somewhere along the line between one and the other.

But this idea that we are trading the offline for the online, though it dominates how we think of the digital and the physical, is myopic. It fails to capture the plain fact that our lived reality is the result of the constant interpenetration of the online and offline. That is, we live in an augmented reality that exists at the intersection of materiality and information, physicality and digitality, bodies and technology, atoms and bits, the off and the online. It is wrong to say “IRL” to mean offline: Facebook is real life.

Don’t get me wrong, this is a thought provoking article. But I personally think he has minimized the affects of the addiction to the connection. Whether you define online as being on a social media network or checking email or looking up the score of the game or searching IMDB to get the name of that actor that’s on the tip of your tongue — it’s all fueled by the same desire.

Namely, the need to know something and to know it right away.

We don’t memorize facts any more, partly because there are so many of them available and partly because they’re right at our fingertips. And maybe the problem is not our desire to recall information or find stimulation, but that we’re still limited to accessing this information through clumsy fingers and glass screens. Perhaps once the information is wired through a neural network straight to our grey matter and the facts and details are accessible the second the thoughts come to our mind, this will be a non-issue. There will be no offline.

And maybe I’m just getting old and the world is passing me by.

Whatever the case, this guy will be working hard to overcome the habits to look things up immediately. Because that desire, the trigger and the resulting habit, have changed how I think and work and interact with others. And I know there’s depth out there waiting to be felt and experienced. Fetish or not, I’d like a life that’s a little more disconnected than the one I have now.