Considering the Internet Age: A Response to Adam Gopnik (Part 2)
Posted on February 22, 2011 by Melita M. Pereira
Calm Down, it’s Just Deja Vu
Those that believe the current “tumult” and “triumph” of our Internet Age is all just part of the ebb and flow of our modern times stand opposite neither the believers nor naysayers. Gopnik’s description of this third interpretive framework is perhaps the most interesting. He compares our digital age to living in the library, stating that while it is “odd and new to be living in the library, [...] there isn’t anything odd and new about the library” itself. He adds that the “digital world is new, and the real gains and losses of the Internet era are to be found not in altered neurons or empathy tests but in the small changes in mood, life, manners, feelings it creates – in the texture of the age”.
The Workings of the Id Left on its Own?
In concluding his essay, Adam Gopnik suggests that the age we live in “is not the age of the extended mind but the age of the inverted self”. This is an age in which all those things that usually aren’t allowed to come out and play make their way to the playground at the click of a (mouse) button. An age when the “things that were once external and subject to the social rules of caution and embarrassment – above all, our interactions with other people – are now easily internalised, made to feel like mere workings of the id left on its own”. Gone are the filters and slip lanes by which criticisms are blocked or intercepted by social convention and niceties. The id, once the pulse of instinctual trends, now has an avenue of expression and exploration.
To further illustrate the point, Gopnik points out the crucial distinction between a social network and a social circle; namely, that while the social circle operates “to curb our appetites”, a network operates to extend them. This is like the workings of the id left on its own because that which was once internalised is now outside and externalised, while “much that used to be outside is inside, experienced in solititude”. Accordingly, the experience of peacefulness away from the internet is actually peacefulness from one’s inner self. This is a both a fascinating, confronting concept and the pinnacle of Gopnik’s essay. It seems almost obvious, and has been said in so many different ways in the past, but not with the fluency and clarity of Gopnik’s statement. According to Gopnik, this is how the internet gets inside us, a subtle process of exchange and symbiosis with that which was already in us all along.
The Wraparound Presence
It is not the machine of the Internet which is the problem, but rather, the “wrapround presence” of it. The danger of the Internet then, is not what is can do or does, or how it impacts society, but its omnipresence. Here we see the often-cited tenets of balance and moderation being cast over this conversation, as has been the case in many other conversions before its (eg. about chocolate, red wine). In concluding Gopnik argues that once the internet is not everything, it “can be merely something”. Once this happens, its omniscience is eroded, neutered and nullified. The internet then, will not be the looming technological prescence of the so called “Internet Age”, it will just be another “something” that has a function in our lives. As Gopnik points out, like the television, all we need to do is turn the internet into the “harmless little fireplace in the corner”
Okay, I don’t think that’s exactly what Gopnik had in mind and as the picture suggests, I am in a “humourous” mood, so I’ll close this editorial with some words from Hermione Granger in honour of Gopnik’s Harry Potter reference: “I hope you’re pleased with yourselves. We could have been killed – or worse, expelled”.
(Featured image by Renjith Krishnan)