It’s no secret that I spend a lot of time on the internet. Maybe too much. Who knows? I have a vague memory of once doing a Google search to find out what actually constituted internet abuse or addiction, but I have must have got distracted, because I don’t recall coming up with an answer.
An increasingly popular viewpoint is that computers, smart phones, and the like have become so inextricably linked with consciousness that they might as well be considered extensions or even integral parts of ourselves. I don’t know if I want to go that far – what, for example, would happen if there were a global power failure that rendered all electronic devices useless? Apart from Armageddon-like chaos and a precipitous descent into savagery, that is? Would the couple of billion people currently connected to the internet wander around like a bereft race of mental amputees? Given the state I’ve seen certain unnamed friends reduced to when forced to go a couple hours without checking their Twitter feed, very possibly.
But while I used to worry about whether I was spending too much time online, I no longer give it that much thought. It would be like wondering if I wear my glasses too often. Yes, I can remember a time when I didn’t wear glasses at all, when it never occurred to me that someday I might want or need to, just as there was a time when I not only didn’t use the internet, but couldn’t even comprehend what or why it was. (In the late 80s, Tom Jennings, creator of FidoNet, trying to explain to me what this newfangled “internet” business was about, told me, “We’re trying to hook up computers so they can talk to each other.” I was dumbfounded. “Why?” I asked. “What would they have to say?”)
In the same vein, while I can still see well enough without my glasses to navigate much of my daily existence, it’s so much easier and so much more enjoyable to be able to read without having to search for a bright light, or to thread a needle in less than half an hour. In that sense, my glasses also have become an extension of myself, enabling me to do things that, had I lived in the era before glasses were invented, would have had to give up 20 or 30 years earlier (David Landes, in his excellent The Wealth And Poverty Of Nations, estimates that the advent of eyeglasses doubled the working life of a skilled craftsmen and gave medieval Europe a huge jump start on the rest of the developing world). So too with the internet: while businesspeople and students and travelers and housewives successfully navigated their tasks for centuries without the assistance of information technology, anyone attempting to do the same today begins with a huge disadvantage.
All that being so, I was really brought up short a few weeks ago when a conversation with a friend was disrupted by somebody making an unnecessary racket on the other side of the room. “Hey,” I found myself shouting, “STFU!”
Most of you will be familiar enough with that acronym (or acrotxt, as I’ve dubbed it) to know that it’s a very rude thing to say on the internet, let alone IRL. And while nearly everybody under the age of 40 or 50 (yes, and me as well) knows a host of acrotxts like GTG, WTF, TTYL, ROFLMAO, IMHO, and the ever-popular OMG and LOL (I first encountered the latter around 1994, and it’s the only one I’ve never really appreciated, possibly because so many email and IM correspondents formed the habit of substituting it for verbal tics like “Um” and “Y’know”), most people, at least to my knowledge, haven’t taken to saying them out loud.
Maybe they have and I don’t know about it, but otherwise, it could mean I’ve become something I’ve never wanted to be: an early adopter. Oh, it’s not as though I don’t like to find out about new developments instantly if not sooner; it’s just that once I’ve become aware of them, I prefer to sit back and see if enough other people are going to pick up on them so I won’t risk being That Guy still singing the praises of his Laserdisc player while everyone else has moved on to Blu-Ray.
I don’t know if we’re about to see an epidemic of people greeting each other with OMGs and WTFs, but I can’t seem to stop myself doing just that. Maybe this is old hat to middle school kids, but I’ve had several adult friends look at me as though I’d just wandered in from another planet. Frankly, I kind of like the idea (speaking in acrotxts, that is, not wandering in from another planet). It’s efficient, saves time and energy, livens up dialogue, and, I think it’s safe to say, annoys fuddy-duddies.
True, there’s an increased chance of being misunderstood: I only just learned that LOL can stand for “Lots Of Love” as well as “Laugh Out Loud,” which could explain some IM chats that went horribly wrong back in the 90s. And while I generally try to limit my swearing to appropriate settings and circumstances, it’s easy, too easy, almost, to unleash a stream of invective when you’re only spelling out the initials.
But hey, we live in a profane society, language is a living and evolving creature, and I kind of like the idea of coming up with, as John K. Samson put it on the last Weakerthans album, “A New Name For Everything.” And if you should encounter me nursing a black eye or a broken nose as a result of shouting GTFO at the wrong computer-literate behemoth, price of progress, right? TTWIGITMW.