5 Creeping Forms of Madness the Internet Is Spreading

#2. Info Binging


This is the age of access. Between Wi-Fi, mobile computing, and the sheer, boggling size of the Internet, all of the information in the world bends to our every curious whim. Every question we can think of can be answered within nanoseconds, no matter where we are. Reach into your pocket, a few taps on your smartphone, and you can know anything. We are all omniscient. I have the complete repository of human history sitting two inches away from my dick all day, every day -- and the enticement is too much.

With so much available, we need to suck in as much information as possible in the shortest amount of time. Because there's always more to know and more to see, and there's not always going to be more time.

Here we are: part of the problem. This is Cracked's primary sin.

We just offer you guys too much amazing stuff. And we're sorry -- lord, we are sorry, but we don't know how to stop!

It is not enough to sit down and learn about one thing when I could learn about only the five most mind-blowing examples of that thing!

The impulse is totally understandable, but still, it means that I'm reading 2,000 words of infotainment instead of 200,000 words of education. I'm not going to sit down and read a 700-page book that will make me an expert in tank maneuvers of World War II, but I will read a two-page article about the funniest tank fails throughout all of history. Instead of taking in careful, measured intellectual nourishment, I binge on cheap comfort facts.

I suppose we could chalk this impulse up to humanity's short attention span and inherent laziness. That's something we, as a species, have always struggled with. But it's certainly different today: Now we intake info-bits in a constant stream. Broad knowledge with no specialty. That's the opposite of the problem we used to have: It used to be that if you had a question back in ye olden times and nobody within earshot knew the answer -- tough shit. Maybe if it really bothered you, you'd go to the library. Sort through a microfiche roll, order a set of specialty books from another library, wait six weeks for them to arrive, and then sit down for a month of afternoon studies. And then, when somebody else asked that question -- that first question that started your journey of discovery -- you would know the answer. You would know all of the answers.

And they would call you a geek and beat you up for it.

#1. Media Isolation


Fuck Reddit.

Hey Reddit, if you're seeing this, look at my eyes and understand that I mean the words I'm about to speak with every fiber of my soul: Fuck you, buddy.

Not because you're a shitty service -- you're great -- but because you have enabled me to ruin myself. Somebody needs to put an asshole-proof lock on my Reddit account. I play Reddit to the exclusion of virtually everything else. I used to check certain sites, every day, because I needed my fix of information. I needed my links to hoard. And then Reddit came along and blew them all out of the water. Why would I go door to door begging for information when I can sit down with this infinitely scrolling service and never, ever stop learning? Every single day is like that Twilight Zone episode where the dude finds that all of humanity is dead, and he rejoices because there's finally time to read now.

Only our glasses never break; there's no ironic twist. We are free to read about decade-spanning Civilization games until our muscles atrophy.

But why is this a problem? It's endless knowledge. Even if you complain about the cluttering memes and obnoxious karma whoring, you can customize your experience. Pick your subreddits carefully, and you'll only see the information that pertains to your interest.

And there it is. Media isolation.

Back in the early days of Internet news, either you couldn't customize the experience or it was so faulty and shitty that nobody bothered. If you wanted information, you had to read special interest blogs, and even they didn't have your exact priorities pinned down. Slashdot might regularly publish stories that you love -- in-depth reviews of phone-phreaking porn, for example; all those sexy clicks and whistles -- but they also did world news. Even if you just scrolled right by a story, you were still dimly aware of its content. Maybe something in the headline would catch your interest, and you'd accidentally expand your horizons. But with user-selected information as the standard (I call out Reddit because it's my vice of choice, but every service does this now, from RSS feeds to Google to Pulse), now I pretty much exclusively read about motorcycles, video games, and fringe science. I'm losing the larger picture. And it's all my fault, obviously: This isn't about externalizing blame, but identifying the weird, diseased parts of our own brains that are screwing us when we're not paying attention.

I'm just saying that I used to pick up the paper and throw everything away but the comics. But occasionally I'd glance at the ground, see a headline screaming at me from the floor, and pick a section back up for a look. Now I have a massive paper that's nothing but comics, and I wouldn't find out about a fucking alien invasion unless it was a reference in today's Ziggy.

Read more from Brockway at his own monument to narcissism/website, The Brock Way. Follow him on Goodreads, Twitter, Tumblr, and Facebook.

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