By Phil Cox
To take what there is, and use it, without waiting forever in vain for the preconceived—to dig deep into the actual and get something out of that—this doubtless is the right way to live.—Henry James
Sometimes a once-in-a-millennium technology comes along and changes your perspective on everything. It happens.
Perhaps my quiet, laid-back demeanor has something to do with feeling so nostalgic lately about my intellectual growth and the new philosophies I have acquired over the years. Or perhaps it was one too many instances of being nearly pulverized on the Columbus freeway that has caused me to sit back in a quiet moment of reflection. Whatever the case, my cat and I recently decided to move back to the familiar territory of Troy, Ohio. Although its strawberry-infused environs may not ooze with the wistful feelings from my early years in Greenville, I yearn for the start of a new chapter and a new perspective on the future.
And how my perspective has changed over the years! I must admit, working and living in a geographically featureless environment can be daunting for a Geography major and Anthony Bourdain wannabe. “I need mountains, Gandalf!,” as a Baggins might exclaim. Though I lived in the city most of my life, like a hobbit I have a great love for the outdoors and growing things. I like mountains, particularly. And the travel bug can hit me hard. Sometimes I catch myself staring off into the landscapes on my desktop background and wondering, “Should I stay or should I go?”
Such a big question is not as simple as a catchy Clash song, though. Nor has it been a simple thing to shift my values, ditch my religion and politics, embrace what I once rejected and wipe everything I once knew and believed in off my map.
Strange times we live in.
Born and raised in the small-town American conservative tradition with some Catholicism mixed in for good measure, life seemed much more simple when my greatest worries were catching reruns of The Simpsons and solving algebra problems. In my generation, button-mashing and scoring cheap alcohol were the primary escapes from the usual confines of modern living. Notwithstanding the dubious lessons that could be gleaned from such activities, childhood was good. Toy-addicted kids and bored teenagers rarely have time for the adult world of work, traffic and responsibility.
As a teenager the mantra was “Going along, to get along.” And on the surface it seemed like it worked. I received my A’s and B’s, never got into real trouble and found my way to college. As I got older, though, I became increasingly aware of my environment and the dominant constraints of our lives. Alarm goes off. Wake up. Look acceptable. Stumble into class. Stand in line. Escape for lunch. Stand in line again. Take test. Go to next level. Take test again. Go home. Eat. Do homework. Escape for another few hours. Crash into bed. Alarm goes off. Wake up. Rinse. Repeat.
My college experiences led me to doubt this “going along to get along” philosophy. At first I wasn’t entirely conscious of my growing lack of motivation and the dissatisfaction I felt with the gist of things. Escaping into button-mashing was easy enough to put my mind at ease, but it wasn’t long after being mired in the university guild that I sensed that things were not as they appeared.
A Summer of Waking Up
To repeat a tired cliché, I “woke up” after years of being asleep at Ohio State, and found myself disillusioned with the school’s focus on climate change studies. ‘Climategate’ was unbeknownst to most people thanks to the censorious mainstream media. To make a long and difficult topic short, in November 2009, internal emails and modeling data from the Climatic Research Unit at the University of East Anglia were leaked to various Internet sites. It was discovered that top climate-change scientists—many who contributed to studies relied on by the top research institutions and governments the world over—who were arguing that global warming is a catastrophic (read: taxable) threat were cooking the books and rotten to the core.
Manipulating data. Hiding source codes. Gagging skeptical scientists in the media. Lacking in reliable objective data. Creating blacklists to silence dissenters. Controlling publications. Making ridiculous assertions about how we will all die shortly. All the things real scientists shouldn’t be doing. And of course, being in the digital era, there had to be a Climategate 2.0. After spending three years in school and two more hearing that climate-change was going to be the focus of my career, I was not happy to discover how untrustworthy these institutions are and the extent of their creepy authoritarian solutions (i.e. more taxes and top-down control).
Of course I have to leave a note here for those who disagree. Who really knows what the climate is doing or the best solution to environmental issues? I’m no scientist, but if I had to take an educated guess, I would say the planet is doing a lot better than us. Politics in science is a terrible combination, much like mixing politics with anything.
People say it is just how things are. Never mind that these institutions are supposed to prepare you in four years for a world whose shape it can’t even predict next week.
So I watched my college graduation ceremony from the sidelines. By then nothing made sense.
Internet For The Win
And so naturally I wanted to move away. I should go. I need to get out. Perhaps to a coastal region or one of those scary countries you see on Locked Up Abroad. Fortunately for my worried parents, Columbus is a safe distance away, and Scotland is one of the least scary places to study abroad. Except for all the chain-smoking, knife-wielding youth who also want to escape.
I did go somewhere else, though. I went to the internet. No matter how much like high school I found the university to be, I learned my real lessons outside its walls (admittedly, the time afforded by my underemployment after college was also a big help). There were some exceptions, and it wasn’t all bad, but I realized the best things in life are friends, family, and world-shattering communications technology.
I’m an optimist at heart. I’m also a curious-minded individual and I always need more information. I have this insatiable desire to know how the world works around me, and the internet is like crack for the info-addict. To have the world’s information at my fingertips and to communicate with others instantaneously around the world is probably, in my humble opinion, the greatest invention since fire. Contrary to the belief of the masses, the internet is much more than just time-wasting social media, viruses, porn and video games. I have found that the unfettered hinterlands of the internet hold incredible educational value.
Interest in organic farming and sustainable ways of living is growing rapidly. New forms of business and trade. Spiritual and social movements in every direction. The collapse of copyright. Free libraries and schooling on almost every subject. The continuing collapse of dominant social memes and the exposure of the fraudulent financial system. Huge networks of alternative media and research. Endless pictures of peoples’ pets on I Can Has Cheezburger?. It has such a transformative effect that it has even spawned its own culture and pidgin languages.
Know your memes!
This revolution in communications has altered and shaped my character and perception of the world. Seemingly overnight I have gone from being a staunch supporter of Team Red to rational anarchism. My views have shifted on history, physics, economics, spiritualism and human nature. When a 12-year-old girl can explain how the world’s monetary system is based on a hoax, it is obvious that the internet is serious business.
You better believe it. Like the Gutenberg Press on steroids, it is rapidly changing how we see, learn, hear, view and interact with each other. The Samizdat would not even be possible! However, unlike the samizdats of an earlier era, this one has the benefit of utilizing the most revolutionary communication device in human history. If printed books—the first revolution—could have such a transformative effect on society centuries ago, leading to the Age of Enlightenment, the internet can surely help re-empower our communities. And I fully embrace, as The Daily Bell coins it, the new Internet Reformation and a new Enlightenment.
Are memes and blogs not neo-pamphleteering? Is it not best described as the democratization of cartoon-making and journalism? That is the real beauty of all this. There is no central authority directing it. There are no restrictive rules or regulations. It is anarchy in action. Beautiful anarchy. It is what you make of it.
The lessons I have learned from the internet have helped to make me who I am today. It has restored my motivation and allows me to explore everything everywhere while being somewhere else. It is a yang to the yin of scheduled, lined, formed and boxed-in modernity. Never has there been a more compelling instant of having the right tool at the right time. Use it well and somebody or something from web might just shift your entire consciousness.
In all that I learned over the years, life is what you make it. Yeah sure, we’re told this repeatedly by our many life coaches, but until you really internalize its meaning, it’s just another one of a thousand mantras we take for granted. Make your environment. Walk the talk. Suddenly one day you may realize moving back home isn’t so bad after all. I recognize the good in keeping your fantasies at arm’s length, but your blessings close to the heart. Sure I may be back on the weekday grind, but I love what I do, my environment, my friends and family, and the realization that “victory is in the doing.” Sure, some days it may seem like lunatics are running the insane asylum we call “Earth” and everything is going to shit due to one catastrophe or another. But it’s always best to keep your perspective positive and remember what’s best in life.
Shouldn’t everybody be on the internet?