World Enough and Time: The internet blues

Bill Hagen
Contributing writer
Anonymous user and the enticing screen

Let’s admit it: we spent too much time on the Internet this past year. Chatting, emailing, buying, viewing, and just looking, just looking, just looking.

What were we thinking? Much of the time, we were not thinking.

Hit “Send” and regret it.

OR, hit “Buy” and regret not patronizing your local store where some dollars would help support your local school system, but where you might also encounter a COV-idiot, unmasked, spewing words and droplets into the air you attempt not to breathe.

If Darwinian adaptation theory applied equally to all ages, we might look forward to less idiocy in the “herd.” But it doesn’t and we won’t. “Go to the end of the line,” we would like to say to the deniers, the unmasked, the anti-vaxers. But in the general rollout, those who haunt the internet, use speed-dial or know someone, have the advantage, regardless of their idiocy. (That’s how it played out in February.)

And did we need all that stuff that was so easy to order, using the fast checkout that had our name, address, credit card number and God knows what else in the profile?

They know what you’ve ordered, they know what you’ve “liked” on Facebook, they know what items you’ve mentioned in your emails. THEY JUST KNOW!

Do I really need that battery-powered window-cleaning squeegee with separate clean and dirty water tanks, and a vacuum to suck up the dirty water? (Actually that gadget was one of my better buys.)

Speaking of knowing, is there any comfort to be derived from knowing that Russian hackers may know us too? For a time, I was receiving up to two messages a day which looked like official Microsoft emails, until one clicked the “From” name to reveal a non-official email account. The emails all featured a run-on sentence with a verb used as a noun, that threatened to end my email account by midnight if I didn’t “update” certain information. Russian? Perhaps, though I understand the Philippines has a very active phishing industry.

AND THEN THERE’S ZOOM, …

...that conference application we’ve become familiar with, whether we wanted to or not. In my case, I’ve participated in ZOOM conferences and a worship service every week since October.

It’s easy to list the things we miss from church when we have Zoom worship: congregational reciting and singing, the choir, a “live” piano or organ, the congregation suggesting those in need of prayer, the passing of the peace, fellowship afterwards, hugs and pats, refreshments.

Some would say we do get our music director at the keyboard, but my computer speakers always make him sound a bit tinny.

Of course, the church itself misses what’s dropped in the collection plate each week. I sent in my usual 6-month check, but not the small amounts I might drop in the plate. Guess I need to do some adding and send another check.

After all these negatives, how dare I even try to think of positives for Zoom! It’s made more difficult for me because my internet service has been very iffy some Sundays, dropping the connection several times. If I go to a static photo at times, it’s because I imagine less stress on the connection. (Do I also need to disconnect the two extra phones on my landline?)

Let’s start with the static photos, since I’m not the only one who uses one. No one can see you; you can attend the service or conference and scratch that itch, pick your nose, or even leave your seat (sound up, of course, so you don’t miss anything). If you have noisy children, a hungry cat, or an overly friendly dog, you can see to their needs and no one will know because all they see is your smiling photo. (Remember to mute.)

Since we now receive packages on Sunday, it’s useful to be able to go static when the “Shop” app on your phone indicates a package is now sitting at your front door.

I suppose you might use the static photo to hide the fact that you’re napping. Obviously, everything I’m speculating here applies double to those on phones, with no video feed at all!

With the video on, I do like the views of people in their homes. We can see faces throughout the service, something we may have wanted to do at times during our in-person worship services. “That was a pretty provocative statement by the pastor. I wonder what old so-and-so thinks about that!” Now we can take a look at so-and-so.

Of course, most of us try to maintain a mask face, pleasant, but neutral—drinking coffee or water occasionally (another positive!).

The lighting makes a difference. Some participants have good lighting. Some tend to be over-lit and some tend to be so dark we can’t make out their expressions at all. My face, lit by a side window, has a shadowy half, a Dark Side. Make of that what you will.

Isn’t it nice to just wear what you want to wear, including your pajamas?

And we do get to see something of the homes. I admire book-filled studies. It’s reassuring--though I am suspicious—to see orderly surroundings, pictures on the wall, a vase with flowers. Some tend to fill the screen with a close-up of themselves, carefully shielding what might be behind them. Some, on the other hand, walk around with their laptops, giving us a moving tour of their home.

I tend to sit back for a room shot, which shows a messy desk--of course indicating work-in-progress--and a distant (unwashed) window. It does not show what’s on the floor. (Aim your camera carefully, my friends.)

Communion has made us creative. Not having grape juice in the house and not wanting to do wine so early in the morning, my standard fare is coffee and a lemon biscotti that I dip. (For me, freshly ground and perked coffee is a morning wine.) I notice other juices being used. At one service, the pastor drank a clear liquid. Was it water, pinot grigio or vodka?

Finally, when we finish our Zoom worship, we don’t have to race to get to Red Lobster before the Methodists. In fact, we probably don’t go anywhere. Or, if we wanted to, we might be tempted by the ability to put up a static photo and slip out right after the sermon!

It’s quite the fashion these days, after a year of mostly staying home, to swear off Facebook, Amazon, or Zoom. We hate to admit how much they provided companionship and solace during 2020.

When most of us are vaccinated and get out and about, will we know how to interact with mere acquaintances, with strangers? Will we yearn for the security of media distancing?

I’m not cutting myself off, even if “they” do know more about me than I know about myself.

Bill Hagen is a retired OBU professor. He lives in Shawnee with his cat. Contact him at billha47@hotmail.com.