I used to work in an office where the vast majority of employees, all of whom worked in front of computers, were forbidden access to the Internet. We were the manual labors of the information age, permitted only to open the application necessary to the data processing we were tasked with, mind-numbingly dull duties that had been subdivided into the minutest of actions to make sure no actual employee thinking took place. This meant that most of the employees hired needed no computer skills whatsoever, and those who had them could easy work around the management’s feeble barriers to the Web. Coworkers who watched me do this looked at me as if I had conjured a demon. They thought for sure that my firing was imminent. (I was promoted instead, proving my theory that breaking the rules is generally rewarded while following them isn’t in corporate management schemes — rulebreaking=initiative.)
I was thinking of this because I recently saw an episode of Buffy the Vampire Slayer in which a demon is accidently uploaded into the Internet and begins seducing the minds of young techno-nerds. They chant how they are “jacked in” or they begin to reject and withdraw from their real-world friends to spend more time with online pals — who turn out to be the devil in disguise. The implication one could draw from this is that spending time on the Internet is anti-social and vaguely evil, certainly against the maintanance of a social network and a sense of community. Discussing this, we started to wonder if Internet access in offices destroys the sense of cameradere that used to exist among coworkers, encouraging people to funnel down their own private rabbit holes, reading blogs and playing online backgammon, and composing emails, instead of playing pranks and bullshitting with the other people in the office and actually getting to know them. First we stopped getting to know our neighbors, now we don’t even get to know our office mates, and soon we won’t get to know anyone outside our immiediate family, presumably. Adaptation of one’s leisure time, one’s spare moments to Internet surfing means no solidarity in the wrokplace, and no potential organizing against management. In that regard, I’m stunned we weren’t encouraged to use the Internet in the data-processing sweatshop.
But it has larger ramifications as well, as socializing with yourself via the Internet, indulging your whims and expecting immediate responsiveness and gratification, means we have that much less patience with actual people, and their annoying tendencies not to immediately do what we want or expect. We can’t click a button on their forehead and get them to say things we find interesting. As a result we are driven to further isolation into more and more solitary pursuits, or pursuits that only occur with prescreened participants certified to be interested in what you are interested in and agree with everything you already think. And where will that come from? That is the truly scary question.