Friday, February 12, 2010

On the Internets

Much has been said about how computers and the Internet have driven us away from each other. How we have become little islands obsessing over the mundanity of a tweet or a facebook update. True, it can be an obsession and a distraction from “real” life. Just like anything else. But it also can be just the opposite: uniting us in ways we never thought possible.

Amidst all the hyped-up ads in this year’s Super Bowl was the Google commercial. It tells a story through the main character’s Google searches. He decides to study abroad in France, where he meets a French girl. He needs to impress her (with Google filling in the gaps in his knowledge) and they fall in love. A long-distance relationship follows, and then he moves to Paris, where they have a kid. You can watch it here:

The protagonist could do all this, the commercial implies, because he used Google. He could’ve, of course, used Bing or Yahoo or any number of search engines. Beyond the implied message that Google is the best search engine is the greater message: the Internet does connect people. Would Google’s protagonist have done all the things he did without the Internet? Perhaps. Would it have been easier, or even as easy? Most definitely not. And if he had not had access to such vast amounts of info, would he have made the decisions he made? Perhaps not. How would the story go in the pre-Internet days? Perhaps he noticed a posting for study abroad on a bulletin board. Then he would fill out the application, send it through snail-mail, and wait 4-6 weeks to get an acceptance. Once in France, trying to impress the French woman, he stammers, trying to find things to say with his limited French knowledge. Perhaps she thinks it’s endearing and they fall in love. He flies back, setting up the long-distance relationship. But how does he easily find postings for jobs in France?... Well, you get the idea. The point is that the chain of events could break down along any one of those points and our pre-Internet hero would wind up marrying someone else. To which you might say, “So what? What’s wrong with that?” To which I would say, “You’re absolutely right.” Enough about a cheesy romantic Super Bowl ad…

Take me, for example. I am a shy person. I used to be a pathologically shy person. The idea of me talking to a stranger used to frighten me the way most people might be frightened when confronting a large wild predator. But the Internet has helped to soften that shyness a lot. I regularly attend groups I find on the Internet. They go by various names depending on my various interests (which are evolving because I love to surf the web) but they all have one thing in common: I go because I am uncomfortable; I go to tame that wild predator that’s shyness. In addition, the Internet was partially responsible for me finding my current job. Though far from ideal, the job requires I take calls from customers, often angry, with little-to-none downtime between calls. I used to have to script out what I was going to say if I had to call somewhere. And sometimes it’d take days, even weeks before I got the courage to call. Of course, the customer service representative never followed the script I meticulously planned out.

So while the bloviators scream that the Internet is pushing the world away, I know for a fact it has allowed me to connect more fully with the world. For that, I am ever grateful. Maybe I’ll go to Paris…

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