February 24, 2011

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The Internet Wish List: All I Want Is A Short-Term Kill Switch

I came across a pretty interesting post on Laughing Squid today:

The Internet Wishlist, by Amrit Richmond.

It’s a sort of open, public suggestion box that collects ideas for apps, websites and new technologies. All you do is share your idea, no matter how big or small, and then it gets posted like a little white sticky-note. Right now there are not a tremendous amount of ideas out there, but if this thing takes off, there are bound to be some pretty fascinating contributions.

I get a lot of emails and tweets from people who want more stuff from us. Some of them are good ideas, some of them are … neither polite nor serious suggestions. Sometimes I feel like Time Warner Cable has its own Internet wish list, and it’s the back of my retinas.

You know what I want? I want a short-range, temporary kill-switch for all of the electronic devices in a defined radius — or off of a centrally located master list. Like a small, targeted EMP that doesn’t require a nuclear explosion first.

During the day, I sit in front of a phone with TweetDeck constantly pinging, two IM clients, two email accounts, and then my cell phone on top of all that. At one point this afternoon my phone rang at the same time I got a text and an email. Then a little bit of cerebrospinal fluid dribbled out of my ear canals.

And the thing is, I totally buy into it. All this stuff pays my bills and gives me a career, but now I’m realizing that it’s maybe gone too far. I’m typing this at home right now, and I’m still checking my Gmail on my iPhone, even though there’s a perfectly good browser right in front of me. When I watch television, I usually fiddle with my iPhone, and on more than one occasion I’ve looked at it in bed in the middle of the night after coming back from the bathroom.

In Kevin Kelly’s “What Technology Wants” he says that we never really know the downside of adopting a particular technology until we have become fully dependent on it, until it’s ubiquitous in our culture. He points out that a hundred years ago, nobody could have imagined the negative sides of having tremendous amounts of cheap calories available to every single person in America.

Now look.

My girlfriend and I just got back from a vacation to an island in the Caribbean where I couldn’t use my iPhone. The internet was broken in our b&b, and we didn’t feel like watching TV. I don’t usually go in for holidays with a bunch of overpriced Caucasians whooping it up to Bob Marley’s greatest hits but I have to say, this was pretty nice.

I didn’t take orders from a single glowing rectangle. At no time did I dip my head into the homogenizing consciousness of the Internet just to “listen to the conversation.” I could feel synapses regrowing, and I had ideas that were my own, not shaped or killed by a few quick Google searches.

Some of you may see a delicious hypocrisy here. I mean, I know I’m a blogger for one of the nation’s largest cable companies/ISPs. All I’m saying is that at some point, it’s really important to force yourself to take a little break from the humming hive mind and regenerate a little.

I’ll just bet there’s going to be a market for communication-suppression machines sometime in the near future. Maybe at spas and movie theaters, at certain resorts or in churches and concert halls. But I think that as a culture, we may be there sooner than we think.

We may need a machine to make us stop using machines so much.

And if you’ll excuse me, I have to go change my shirt. I’ve just squirted some more spinal fluid out onto the shoulders.

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