Why The Internet Is Still Awesome

“They want to deliver vast amounts of information over the Internet. And again, the Internet is not something that you just dump something on. It’s not a big truck. It’s a series of tubes.”Alaskan Senator Ted Stevens, 2006.

“The Internet has its charms and its dangers.” – Peter the Librarian, to incoming freshman at Washington University, 2001.

“During my service in the United States Congress, I took the initiative in creating the Internet.” – Senator Al Gore, 1999.

De de dee da do do do do do…

Since it first graced me with its presence in my home in 1996, I’ve always had a love/hate relationship with the Internet. In the beginning, I instantly fell in love with the dancing hamsters and the ability to find anything my heart desired on Netscape. Soon, I discovered that my crush was accessible 24/7 thanks to a little something called AOL Instant Messenger. My friends were also accessible over AIM and I’d spend many nights sneaking into the computer room to chat, waiting for that magical hum from the modem signaling to me that I was connected me to the internet/my dreams. Sometimes I’d throw a towel over the computer, hoping it would mute out that terribly loud sound and not wake up my parents.

Not only did the Internet connect me with my friends, but it allowed me to listen to all sorts of music I wouldn’t otherwise have access to. Thanks to Napster and later Kazaa, I could listen to the greatest hits of the ’80s, ’90s, and today without having to spend all of my allowance on CDs. All that money I saved really came in handy in college when I had to pay for things like laundry and Ramen noodles.

Remember when it was “the” Facebook?

Toward the end of college, a little social network called Facebook arrived to the scene. It allowed you to connect with other kids on campus and see what they were up to. At first, it sort of felt like signing someone’s yearbook. You’d leave a little note on someone’s graffiti wall and go about your daily business. Soon, we were able to be friends with people on other campuses. Then, eventually the whole world was invited to join along with everything that has ever been invented. Ever. You could suddenly post pictures, tag people in statuses, check in with people. Lots of information available about everyone including your old boyfriend, his mother, your best friend from middle school.

Fun at first! A great way to keep in touch with friends old and new! But funny things started to pop up. Judy had a party last week? All my friends were there? I wonder why I wasn’t invited. Do they not like me? Staci is backstage at the Justin Timberlake concert again?! She really leads a more exciting life than I do. I need to get out more. Why won’t anyone like my status? Am I not funny? Or interesting?

My boyfriend, according to Buzzfeed.

Thanks Facebook, not only have you exacerbated my fear of missing out, you’ve turned me into a cyberstalker and you’ve wasted ALL of my time. What’s worse is that Buzzfeed has joined the party to take up even more of my time. As if Facebook hasn’t wasted enough time, now there’s an array of easy-to-read (read: mostly pictures), hilarious posts about everything under the sun from news stories to why going to the mall as a child is different from going as an adult. If that wasn’t enough, they now have quizzes. So even though I didn’t go grocery shopping as I’d planned, I do know which writer from history I should have a romantic fling with (Anton Chekov) and which U.S. President I most resemble (Barack Obama). Equally as important, I’d say.

Aside from wasting my time, how about the fact that the Internet has dumbed down our society as a whole?! The Internet is rewiring our brains! Nobody even reads anymore. In fact, if you’ve reached this far in my post, I commend you! Hashtag thank you. Hashtag see what I mean about the dumbing down of our society. Hashtag I hate people who talk in hashtags. Hashtag sorry not sorry.

Some days, I am so disgusted by how much the Internet has taken over my life. As I write this post, I’m staring at my iPad while my iPhone sits next to me. You know, in case someone likes my photo on Instagram, I can instantly respond and return the favor by liking one of their photos.

Just last month, when I hit the peak of my frustration with the Internet and thought about unplugging forever, I was kindly reminded why the Internet is still awesome. One day, upon arriving home from work, I received a small package in the mail. I wasn’t expecting anything so I didn’t have a clue as to what might be in the box.

The mug and the letter.
The mug and the letter.

After opening the box and sifting through the hundreds of styrofoam peanut-looking things, I found a commemorative royal wedding mug and a letter that was typed on a typewriter. It was from a Twitter friend, whom I’ve never met, but who knows how much I loved the royal wedding and everything Will and Kate-related. His mother, who lives in Minnesota, got the mug as a commemorative gift from People Magazine and was going to throw the mug away. Not wanting a good mug to go to waste, my Twitter pal thought of the only person he knew who might want such a thing–me.

The mug was accompanied by a letter, another one of my favorite things. There’s nothing better than receiving a letter in the mail. The thoughtful gift was an added bonus. This encounter happened because of our friendship over Twitter and it reminded me why the Internet is still awesome. It connects people.

Isn’t that why we go online in the first place?

A Letter From Anne Lindbergh

Recently, I came across an interesting blog called Letters of Note. The premise of the blog is simple–each post is a letter deemed worthy of a larger audience than just the initial recipient. I found the blog through a tweet mentioning a post with a letter written by Charles Bukowski on censorship. Naturally, I couldn’t resist as I like all things Charles Bukowski. I nosed through more of the letters and became instantly entranced with what I found. There’s a letter from survivors of the Titanic, a letter from a World War II Japanese suicide bomber to his children, and a letter from Conan O’Brien, respectfully turning down an invitation to the prom from one of his fans.

I have always been a sucker for letters. There is something so personal about someone expressing their thoughts to you in writing. If it weren’t for the advent of email, I’d still be writing letters. I spent a large portion of my childhood writing and receiving letters from various pen pals around the country. Summer afternoons, I’d stake out a spot in the living room and wait in great anticipation for the mailman. A good day meant receiving three letters at a time, a bad day meant no letters. I’d pretend not to be disappointed, but really I yearned to tear open envelopes and gush over juicy letters.

Although email and AOL instant messenger ended my serious letter writing days, I did keep all of the letters that I received. I could never bring myself to throw anything away that was handwritten. Letters were sacred texts.

I’m not sure if many (or any) of my letters could be deemed noteworthy or worthy of a larger audience, however, I did receive a letter back from my favorite author Anne Lindbergh, daughter of the famous Charles Lindbergh. I wrote her a letter when I was in the fourth grade and had just finished her book, The People of Pineapple Place. I read the book as a part of a Battle of the Books competition I was participating in and I wanted to tell her how much I enjoyed her book. She wrote me the following letter which I taped up in my bedroom and kept on the wall forever:

Barnet, Vermont
February 17th, 1993

Dear Sonja,
How nice of you to write and say that you liked The People of Pineapple Place enough to get a friend to read it too. Authors are happy to get letters like yours, because it proves that here are readers out there. Sometimes we wonder! If you think about it, writing is kind of a puzzle: we do it in order to communicate with our readers, but the harder we work, the more we shut ourselves away from them.

Your Battle of the Books sounds like fun. I bet you discovered some good stories that way! I’m not at school anymore, but I have an ongoing, friendly battle of books with my cousin Faith to see who can list the most good “rereads” for the other. Lots of Faith’s favorites are out of print so I have to hunt them down in libraries or even used book stores. The used books often cost only a dollar or two, so I usually buy them and now have quite a collection. You should keep a list of your own favorites so that if you want to reread them in the future, you’ll remember the titles and authors.

Thanks for writing!

Sincerely,
Anne Lindbergh

As an aspiring writer, I was especially pleased to get such a personal response from my favorite author. In the years after I had received her letter, I often thought about what she had said about how we write to communicate with our readers but the solitary act of writing shuts us away from them. I even contemplated writing to her as an adult, but sadly I found out that Anne Lindbergh died of cancer ten months after I had received her letter. I’ll always remember the excitement I felt from receiving such a letter and for that reason, I will always hold on to it.

Letter from Anne Lindbergh. February 17th, 1993.