The Wooly, Wonderful Web (Are You Easily Snared?)

“Do you understand how there could be any writing in a spider’s web?”“Oh, no,” said Dr. Dorian. “I don’t understand it. But for that matter I don’t understand how a spider learned to spin a web in the first place. When the words appeared, everyone said they were a miracle. But nobody pointed out that the web itself is a miracle.” “What’s miraculous about a spider’s web?” said Mrs. Arable. “I don’t see why you say a web is a miracle-it’s just a web.” “Ever try to spin one?” asked Dr. Dorian.” [1]

The internet, in all its wonder, wildness, and weirdness, preys on people like you. Aggregate sites in particular. Buzzfeed. Bored Panda. Alltop. HuffPo. Tumblr.

And your social feeds? Portals of pure distraction. Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest, even benign old, innocuous LinkedIn is now a newsreader replete with gardens of forking paths.

These tiny windows are filled with items YOU MUST SEE NOW. That article? It's obviously important, one of your closest friends suggested it (and they are the more discreet of your largely undiscerning friends). And wait! - before you click away to that article, right beneath it is that person you highly esteem, she just linked to a video, yet another DROP-EVERYTHING-NOW video.

Sometimes the diversion is shallow superficiality - nothing enriching, neither educational nor informative, it's simply cotton candy nourishment for a carnival-readied mind.

I once scoffed at how older generations were held captive by Tom Brokaw and Dan Rather each night, chained to their armchairs, tortured by pompadours reading headlines in their living rooms. These beguiled generations may have been subjected to orotund orators but at least they weren't as pathetically disinclined as we sometimes are, held hostage by LOLcats.

At one time (not that long ago) you could rely on a small percentage of your network to share something worthwhile, but a dramatic change has transpired since then: our networks are growing, ergo, sharing is up. Everyone's sharing. (Curse the genius who came up with the genteel word "share" over the onerous word "spread"; you can spread a nasty cold, you rarely share one). Now, virtually every time I open one of my favorite media tools, I see articles my friends want to (hands proffered so eloquently towards me) share.

The web is a wonderland.

But it's also still a web.

I know how this works. I help populate the internet with helpful posts, useful tips, insights you might need or want to know. Articles like this little spindly one, so it's not you, it's me.

Actually ... it is you.

You're likely reading this post now because of a distracting interlude you decided to take … from what? What did your meandering excursion cost you?

Pardon my blunt intrusion into your life but, since we're friends, I'll share with you what only a friend could: you just might live, rudderless.

You don't know where you are going so it doesn't really matter when, how, or even if you arrive. No navigation, no sail, not even an anchor to keep you in a peripatetic haze. A gentle nudge, a light tug, a faint breeze will point or pull you in the direction anyone wants you to go. You are the money machine facebook dreams about.

If you are offended, perhaps you are one of the few who could say, "I know damn well where I'm going, thank you". But why are you still so easily distracted? Are you derailed because your dreams aren't big enough? Or, are you merely delusional about what you purportedly wish to accomplish?

This delirium, this erosion of our will, happens in inches. In minutes. In minuscule moments. Death by a thousand little cuts. I've written before that our fulfilled dreams are the sum total of our tiny tasks, the opposite is easily true, the death of our dreams often occur in a billion deadly bytes.

I have been at my most vulnerable, my most pliable, when I lacked direction. Whether it's direction I lost for a season, for the day, or for the moment. If I am not steadfast in my personal (and professional) goals, my energies become hijacked by anyone and everyone else. Their hand on the plow, they till their own interests with my full consent because I lack fortitude.

Please don't misunderstand: I love the web and its serendipitous surprises.

Recently, I was having a difficult time cranking up the gray matter to sit down and write (a full pot of coffee notwithstanding). I launched Twitter, scanned my feed, and stumbled upon this:

Joyce Carol Oates linking to an Oliver Sacks article? Must. See. Now.

The problem is: this happens all the time, virtually every time we launch our tiny communities of conviviality.

I wish I were making this one up: as I was writing these very words, I (out of habit) launched Spotify. Spotify's omniscient digital narrator speaks to me: "You liked Julie Stone, you might like The Waifs".

I love Julia Stone, of course I would like The Waifs! Click, scroll. I'll be damned: A Waif cover of Patsy Cline's Crazy. C'mon! It's a Patsy Cline cover by an Australian folk band! I wonder, what other songs have they done.

Clickety-click. Clack. Scroll.

Gone.

It might not be a cat and a laser pointer on a wood floor but the endgame was the same.

See?

It's you. And me.

The internet isn't merely a rabbit hole, it's a million rabbit holes mazed in a briar patch. But the world wide web is also a trove of delightful, inspiring surprises. Recipes, movies, essays, books, music: fortuitous delights around every corner.  I love the immediacy and accessibility. I prefer this world, this digital age, these problems of plenitude to yesterday's exclusivity and limited supply.

In the late eighties, me and my buddies made contraband cassette tape recordings at ungodly hours of the night or morning because the only stations interested in playing our obscure music (New Wave at the time, I've since recanted) were college stations who eked out our tribal music for only about two hours a week (if we were lucky). Now, the world's music is a magic mouse wand away. I wasn't raised in this briar patch, but I've certainly grown comfortable here. Sites like TED, Spotify, Vimeo, Etsy, have enriched my life and opened my eyes to creative potential. Immersed, I could get lost for hours.

And therein lies the problem: I could … get lost.

There are solutions out there, tools to prevent you from even accessing the web (like Freedom) or "read it later" tools (like Pocket) that mitigate the disruption. I use these profusely, they are effective, but I worry they sometimes merely mask symptoms. Is simple distraction the real problem or is it the lack of (clear-cut) desire?

Do you really desire to accomplish something? Are you serious about what you want to do with your life?

Think: you are contributing to someone else's dream every time you buy a song, rent a movie, watch an online video, etc. The web is (obviously) working for others. What about your dream? Is it worth suspending your wishes, wants, and aspiration to invest in someone else’s? When you click to, what are you clicking away from? The web is a firehose that is summarily turned on you (and me) and when we turn to face the culprit who is washing our dreams away, we come face to face with ourselves: we are holding the hose.

Don't you think its time you decided to make the web work for you? Do you really want to spend your life contributing to everyone's life goals but yours? Those divergent paths don't have to lead down dark rabbit holes, you can create roads for yourself. Technology today affords you the tools to make your music, your movie, your art, your book: they are here, now. The very life you are losing, yours, can be won back, not in one fell swoop or one "committed weekend" but in miniscule moments, diminutive wins, tiny tasks against the raging current you currently drift in as flotsam. How about letting others commit to your dream for a change?

Opportunity costs. Is it costing you your life?

>>>>>

Postscript: If this article's tone sounds nasty and self-righteous, please know: I write for me. And sometimes, like in the case of this article, I even write to me. This article is neither a thesis nor a polemic against content, fresh, refurbished or otherwise. I'm a big believer in content and the heuristic possibilities of the web. I'm simply trying to become less a rat, more a human. Hoping to make the web less like a fair, more like a tool to accomplish the job:

“The goose was right. This fair is a rat's paradise. What eating! And what drinking! Everywhere is good hiding and good hunting. Bye bye my humble Wilbur. Fare thee well, Charlotte, you old schemer. This will be a night to remember in a rat's life.” - Templeton, the Rat, Charlotte's Web

[1] Charlotte's Web, E. B. White

Photo credit: Gregory Jordan