Let’s all imagine the death of the internet
We all dream about it: a life free of scrolling, tweeting, liking, faving, streaming, replying, apologising for not replying and other assaults on our poor, saturated brains. But what would an analogue world actually look like? In his new book, Off: The Day The Internet Died, author Chris Colin, paints a picture that‘s a little Edenic and a little demented. Un-barraged by gloomy news and inane celeb gossip, we begin to notice nature again. We take walks, stare at the clouds and listen to podcasts consisting of our own thoughts. Snapchatting gives way to endless rounds of Go Fish. Minecraft is a game involving sticks and leaves. We talk to our neighbours — not about the TV shows we’re streaming — and occasionally we fall in love. Rinee Shah’s playful illustrations perfectly capture the absurdity of life reflected in our screens. Whether you’re addicted to tech or not, you’ll see something of yourself when you put down your phone and pick up this smart, funny book. We asked Chris to tell us a little about where the idea for the book came from.
Per the arbitrary bylaws of academia I’m not “technically” an anthropologist. But this is merely because I have no training in the subject and don’t really understand what the job entails. Otherwise, please know that the following assertion rests on a foundation of rigorous social science:
People are suuuper into the Internet.
Wait, hear me out.
As a journalist based in San Francisco for the last two decades, I’ve written about the World Wide Web at its various stages, from nerd hobby to niche economy to the very air we breathe. In that time, of course, we entirely ported our social, professional, cultural and political spheres over to the screens in front of us. Then came the pandemic, and it turned out there was much more porting to do!
Between Zoom, Amazon, Twitter, Netflix and the like, we came to depend on the Internet for community, for work, for groceries, for desperately needed news and more. In my own life, I began publishing Six Feet of Separation, a free pandemic newspaper by and for kids. Offering a sliver of agency and connectedness to isolated, homebound kids has been our central task — and would underscore the essentialness of the Internet, if that weren’t already so painfully obvious.
I also wish the Internet would burn up in a horrible fire, or possibly drive off a cliff.
For all the ways we rely on it, every one of us sees it warping us. We have no illusions about our demented addiction to hearts, likes, instant gratification, shallow delight and constant dopamine hits. We know that our sleep is suffering, our memory diminishing, our pace quickening, our dialogue deteriorating and, in some cases, our democracies languishing. The Internet degrades our relationships, distorts our sense of self and wastes unspeakable amounts of our precious, finite time on this planet.
Again, it’s also great!
But I’ve been conflicted for some time, and what do you do when you’re conflicted? You write an adult picture book.
I wrote Off: The Day the Internet Died to be an absurd bedtime fantasy, a demented-but-hopeful take on our dysfunctional relationship with screens. It’s a humour book, with at least one squirrel speaking the word “fart.” But my hope is that it’s also a Trojan horse for a more substantive, non-squirrel-based conversation about our online lives. Its publication coincides with the one-year anniversary of lockdown — a fine occasion, I think, to consider anew our relationship to screens. Soon that relationship will be so all-encompassing, so complete, that pondering it will make as much sense as pondering our own heartbeats.
This is probably where I’m supposed to argue for sleeping with your phone in another room, or counting the number of hours you spend on social media each week. I should probably make a case to cut your cable altogether. But that’s not my bag. Buy more cables! Order them over the Internet! My request is simpler: I just want us to remember the world we’re leaving.
Taking a novel with you on public transportation rather than a phone. Staring out the window for long stretches. Handwritten letters. Going a full day without hearing from anyone. Walking into a new restaurant with no idea whether it’s good or bad. Owing nobody email. Getting lost. Having no idea what’s happening in the world for an irresponsibly long period of time.
Our old analogue habits will be with us just a little longer, and then they’ll vanish like so much Victorian hair art. I don’t mean to fetishise them, or submerge them in twee nostalgia. Getting lost sucked, every time. But I think there are other reasons to pay attention to their departure. As we fully ingrain the new way — the constant connection, the ever quicker pace, the death of simple boredom — we seal the door on versions of ourselves as well. There’s no going back.
I believe there’s value in imagining other ways this whole operation could go, even if they don’t actually come to pass. I suspect my fellow anthropologists would agree.
Team Balance love this book and can’t recommend it highly enough. Off: The Day the Internet Died by Chris Colin and Rinee Shah is available from all good bookstores. For further information visit www.prestel.com