Did you see that video about the cat? You know the one. What, you haven’t seen it? Are you kidding? You say you don’t know what a honey badger is or why “he don’t care”? Well surely we can have a conversation about revenge porn. You know what it is, right? I mean Hunter Moore—he was yesterday’s news, but you saw that he was trending on Twitter. Right?
Where have you been?
You’ve had that conversation, haven’t you? We all have. In fact, I used to be that person. Maybe not to the obnoxious extreme above, but I was in the know. I knew the videos that were trending. I knew who Kreashawn was before she was getting air play. I still, frankly, know more than most people my age (don’t ask; it’s not polite, although it’s easy enough to find out). I know what all the big sites are. I know what rage face is. I even know what Tittiepocalypse is. Can you say the same?
I read the Daily Dot.
Generally, I know how things work on the Internet.
Back at the beginning of the Web, when I was oh-so-cutting-edge, people used to turn to me all the time to confess that they were not online yet. When I say confess, I’m not exaggerating. Even now I can see the face of the asker, the way it contorted in panic. I can hear the voice, jagged and quiet, like he was about to confess that he had a porn addiction.
“You know,” he would stage whisper, “I really need to go on to the World Wide Web.” (Yes, that’s what we called it back then.) Then his eyes would widen, waiting for my response, waiting for the scolding, or the fake gulp of indignation.
Instead, I’d look at him calmly, maybe even wisely—certainly benevolently— and say pretty much what I said to everyone who asked.
“Don’t worry: You’ll go online when you need it.” Then I’d smile, relishing in the gift of peace I’d given.
I don’t say that anymore.
If someone has the audacity to confess that he is abstaining from the Internet, I assume he’s being iconoclastic and hipper than thou. Or a stubborn Luddite. Or he lives in a different time space continuum then the rest of us, one in which somehow one doesn’t need the Internet. Just imagine!
The thing is—I can’t. You probably can’t either.
Being online is now de rigueur. Of course I’m preaching to the choir, and you’re rolling your eyes. But it’s necessary.
At least, a lot of it is. We need to keep up with the news and find out a little bit about what’s going on on our small blue marble.
But what’s trending? What our friends are doing? What’s being shared on Facebook? What videos we must see? I know what you’re thinking: Oh my God she’s so out of it. That’s not even where the action is. It’s on... (and here’s where you fill in the blank to tell me about the much more interesting, much more insider site than anything I know).
That’s the thing about the Internet. It really still is as wide as the world. It’s expansive. It’s huge. It’s the universe, contained in wires and computers and drives and human minds across the planet.
It’s a party. One huge party. A million huge parties. And everyone wants in. Everyone wants an invite. We’re all waiting at the gates for Gatsby to let us in. We all want to be at the next fabulous party. Maybe even throw it.
That’s what social networks are selling: being inside the party. Being in the know, being hip. I think it’s something about our culture right now. It’s all about celebrity. Kids used to dream of being firefighters and astronauts and teachers and doctors; now they want to be famous more than anything else, apparently. The Internet feeds that obsession. We all have the idea that if we produce the next great hit, we too, can reach the grand heights of fame. We all want to be the next Gatsby, if only for a moment.
Even though I know how it works, even though I’m hardly a teen, I still feel the pull of wanting to be in the know. I feel badly when I’m not at the party. I know there are so many things that I’m missing. Right? Tell me you haven't felt that way. And no matter how hard I try to keep up, I just can’t. There’s just too many places to be on the inside, too many parties to attend: Twitter, Facebook, Reddit, Tumblr. Those are just the big ones. Vine. Google hangouts. Blogs. A million, million blogs.
It used to be that we could all keep up, watching the same evening news or reading the same newspaper. Being in high school for me, for example, meant that you had to watch Saturday Night Live, so you could keep up with the jokes on Monday morning. Everybody watched it.
Was that better? When we were all glued to one thing, all getting the same information? Sure, we had a common parlance, a common conversation. Now, we’re all getting different information from different sources at different times. More information, of more types, to more people. That has to be good.
And yet people are still expected to know what the “it” thing is online.
Why do we expect each other to keep up? To be in the know, despite this new, huge river of information, which makes it literally impossible? I think it’s human. We’re programmed in a primordial way to keep up with the group. Stop keeping up and guess what happens? You get left behind. In some time periods and cultures, that could mean the absolute worst.
Maybe it’s not just human—maybe it’s purely biological. Pavlovian. When my dogs hear a noise, they come running. Honey badger don’t care, but they do. And they should. They want to see what’s there. Because sometimes it’s something yummy.
So I guess I’m going to need to log back on, get back into the swing of things—even if I have only taken an hour, or day, or, God forbid—a week—off. Because hell, we all want to be hip. We all want treats.
Want to invite Janet Kornblum to your party? You can reach her in all the usual ways, including email at firstname.lastname@example.org. (She may even accept).
Screen grab via YouTube