Archived Story

Sucked into the Internet wormhole

Published 5:59pm Thursday, May 29, 2014

I am the sort of person that loves documentaries and nonfiction books. Perhaps it’s part of the journalist inside of me that just finds facts to always be stranger than fiction.
In this regard, the Internet is the best and worst thing to happen to me.
It is the best in the sense that I now have access to most of the facts and information that mankind has developed since recorded history.
It is hard to imagine life without it. Once upon a time, if someone asked you a question you didn’t know, it stopped there. You just didn’t know the answer unless you got into your car, drove to the library and hoped there was some sort of resources up-to-date enough to satisfy your query.
Now, it takes about six seconds.
Who invented peanut butter?
Zap. I reach into my pocket and a few keystrokes later, Google spits out an answer (not to burst anyone’s bubble, but it actually wasn’t George Washington Carver).
I honestly think it has made us a little impatient. My tolerance for not knowing now is very low. That is, I almost compulsively search for any fact someone around me asks about.
This in itself is sort of a negative, as I don’t feel like I am actually storing these facts. I don’t really have to. It’s all there on Google, so why remember it?
But the real danger for me is what can happen after I find what I am looking for.
I am talking about the search engine wormhole.
One minute I am searching for how Dallas Mavericks owner Mark Cuban made his wealth, and the next minute I am reading about click farms (which I found out are like the digital age’s sweat shops, where people are paid a paltry sum to mindlessly click “Like” on Facebook pages to simulate. It is actually a big business in Bangladesh, but I digress.)
For me, it becomes a spiral into time-wasting and insomnia. A click here, then oh hey! That looks interesting!
I have pushed into the wee hours of the morning searching for nothing and everything at the same time until my wrists hurt and my iPhone is drained of its charge.
I have polled a few of my friends only to find out I am not the only one. Wikipedia particularly lends itself to this behavior, as right in the context of another article it has hyperlinked blue words to allow you to learn more about an ancillary concept in the thread.
Visit the Wikipedia for Nuclear War. A few paragraphs down, “Fat Man” is highlighted.
A little more reading later, and I stumble upon Bikini Atoll, also highlighted.
Next thing I know, a foray into nuclear research leaves me reading about the Marshallese language, a Malayo-Polynesian language spoken by 44,000 people.
By then, it’s almost light outside. The night is gone, but I learned one thing from all my efforts.
What did I do before the Internet?
Nelson is managing editor for The Outlook.