Is this what it is like?

In Coming to terms with the Web on July 31, 2010 at 1:53 pm
Family watching television, c. 1958

Image via Wikipedia

I was reading Ian McEwan’s Amsterdam the other day. I found it hard to relate to any of the characters, but this passage did resonate.  Clive, a renowned composer, is on his way to the country. He passes through the outskirts of London, and is staring dismally at the landscape:

In his corner of west London, and in his self-preoccupied daily round, it was easy for Clive to think of civilisation as the sum of all the arts, along with design, cuisine, good wine and the like. But now it appeared that this was what it really was – square miles of meagre modern houses whose principal purpose was the support of TV aerials and dishes; factories producing worthless junk to be advertised on the televisions… It looked like a raucous dinner part the morning after. No one would have wished it this way, but no one had been asked…

Clive was in a pretty dark mood, but when it comes to the internet, I feel like this most of the time. When surfing, I find zillions of these houses and factories, the purpose of which is unclear, or at least somewhat trivial, to me. I find it overwhelming, but not necessarily in a positive way. This is the marketplace of ideas, but who regulates the quality of the ideas? Of course, no-one can (and, perhaps, nor should they) and I just have to get used to this.

Clive also hints at the inward-looking nature of this sprawl: for him, at least at this moment, all human endeavour comes back to television (or, more accurately, consumerism). As overwhelming the spread of ideas (aka URLS, websites)  is, more alarming is that they might be serving an unworthy end. Let’s hope that this is not the case.

My apologies for such a pessmistic post. Just trying to come to terms with my ambivalence to the web.

Any comments?

  1. This might help you deal with your ambivalence: What is there was no Web, Internet, or digital sharing at all? Heck, toss out the TV as well. Does that equal improvement in the quality of life for the general public?

    Or you can check out the pros and cons of the ‘net.

    • Fair comment, esmayu. Note, though, my use of the word ‘ambivalence’ and also of the phrase ‘coming to terms with’. This does, in my mind, indicate some openness to change: checking out the pros and cons is exactly what I intend to do (otherwise I wouldn’t even have gotten this far)!

  2. I can definitely relate – my first blog was also about my ambivalent feeling towards the internet, especially social networking sites; I find that these have a kind of odd paradox in that they supposedly allow us to be more connected, yet they sometimes seem (at least to me) to actually have the opposite effect and we’re less connected, or not connected or communicating in meaningful ways. It’s so easy to go on there and write someone a quick message to say hi and feel like ‘oh, now I’ve caught up with them/been in touch’ and then perhaps not bother to see them face-to-face or actually have a conversation about what’s really going on in each other’s lives…but maybe it’s just me!

    On a side note, Amsterdam is a bit of an odd novel isn’t it? I like Ian McEwan, but it’s certainly not his best work. Not too sure how it won the Booker Prize…he has written some good stuff though, I really enjoyed On Chesil Beach.

    • Hi Maren,

      Thanks for responding. I really have to get this thing set up on my mobile, so I can respond on the move. Will do so soon. Quickly, re. McEwan – ironically, On Chesil Beach and Amsterdam are the only two of his I have read, and I also much prefer On Chesil Beach. I think it was a less ambitious novel, so I didn’t feel that after the 150 odd pages (it was very short, wasn’t it?) that there were still undeveloped themes. I think in Amsterdam he was probably writing more about people like himself – high-rolling genius types – and I found it all a bit unbelievable (though I’m sure some people do behave this way). It was just a bit… showy.

      Dzhen (Jen)

  3. not pessimistic at all! there definitely needs to be some roadmap (googlemap) of the interwebs to make any sense of it! a top down view would be nice so i could get some idea of what’s what in the bigger scheme of things… i too feel dismayed by all the urban spread of URLs

    • Hi st333z,

      There does. But then that’s just a fantasy, alas. I think we probably just need to become Web-literate, and fine-tune our filters. In short, we have to be our own map-makers. It’s harder said than done, though. At the moment I’m just trying to catch up with the new social networking tools that have developed since I was last ‘into’ the Web (circa 2006, when I worked as a web content manager and editor in Russia). I’m trying hard not to let my cynicism isolate me from the potential advantages of Web 2.0 literacy…


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