Find humor, not tragedy in ‘technological absurdism’

Published in the Daily Illini March 12th, 2012

My roommates and I have reached month No. 7 without the almighty Internet in our house. I still haven’t met anybody else currently living in such a primitive condition.

It all started as a protest against the high priced/low quality service of the only providers, Comcast and AT&T. And we’re still flooded by their envelopes to our porch mailboxes. Don’t get me wrong; we’re not purists. We do go to friends’ places and zone out in front of screens like the rest of the world. One roommate even has an iPhone. So whenever somebody needs to know something quick — an album title or, say, the zeroth law of thermodynamics— then, you know, we can find that out.

But let’s be real: It is literally impossible to be an enrolled student and not use email. And now the same is true with Facebook, which has replaced Compass in one of my classes. I called our stunt of a zero-Internet household an experiment in “technological minimalism” in a column last semester, but now that seems like an hopeful impossibility. One should be consciously aware of when browsing turns into numbing (easier said than done), but actively trying to minimize the usage and literacy of the endless ocean of culture and information is like going out on a sailboat and being indifferent to the wind.

So have the monumental shifts in communication fully sunken into our collective psyche? Are we now post-Internet? A new YouTube sensation? I’m over it.

Experimental musician and aspiring Hollywood action star James Ferraro would say we’ve reached a post-Internet stage and comfortably blasé to Web’s monumental power. His “Best-of 2011” album “Far Side Virtual” is many things, but if it’s anything, it’s a satire du jour. Listening to it is like immersing yourself into an anxious and vibrant playground of bright synths, ringtones jingles, and iPads. Ferraro describes his idea for the far side virtual as a “21st century still life”:
“Go into a frozen yogurt shop. Afterwards, go into an Apple store and just fool around, hang out in there. Then go to Starbucks, get a gift card and go home. If you do all these things you’ll understand what ‘Far Side Virtual’ is — because people kind of live in it already.”

The first time people listen to the album they detect a certain cheesiness in the happy and superficially upbeat tones. And that should be expected given that he is sampling our devices’ sounds that are carefully crafted to give us that jolt of positivity (“Hey, someone texted me!”). The music is endearing because every note is intricately and honestly designed, a mirror in the face of the society right now. Critic Michael P. McGregor said it well: “The joke isn’t on us, it is us.”

So the question I pose: How far are you willing to go before just admitting how absurd the whole thing is? Most of us realize Facebook profiles are merely shortcut illusions of who we really are. But at the end of the day the illusions are the only things we really hold on to; call them dreams if you’d like. Sometimes you can find wisdom by just taking a step back to laugh, so maybe I’m more on the side of “technological absurdism.”

We predicted that not having Internet at home would probably only highlight its omnipresence, but now that technology is essentially another appendage to our bodies we can move past the stage of only thinking about all the tragedies the Internet is inflicting upon humanity and start laughing a little bit at how technologically obsessed we can be.

After all, when Woody Allen asked the super-intelligent extraterrestrials how to make the world a better place they told him, “Tell funnier jokes.” And we all know how smart super-intelligent extraterrestrials are.