Thanks to some time well-spent surfing the Internet, I now know all about the world's tallest man, Robert Pershing Wadlow, his eight-foot-seven-inches and pituitary gland abnormalities. In fact, I now know all about the pituitary gland--most notably, that it exists. I can now inform and entertain any new acquaintance with this fun fact. I'll tell you, it helps to have such a convenient filler on hand for a lull in conversation.
I've discovered I'm not alone in my rampant recreational Internet use: the average American spends 19 hours a week online, according to a recent USC digital future study . This is great news for affiliate advertising and eBay, and for those who struggle with incurable boredom. From viral videos of double rainbows to puppies to online poker, the Internet is home to all sorts of pick-me-ups.
But I have to wonder what effect all this Internet use has on our humility; as we spend our days perusing the web, are we accruing too much knowledge? Is the Internet making us precocious geniuses? I worry that soon we'll have collected so much trivial information in our brains that even a Sunday New York Times crossword puzzle will hardly pose a challenge. And I don't want Will Shortz out of a job--not in this economy!
The Internet is an easily accessible encyclopedia of "facts." All it takes is one click of a mouse for us to look up a long lost baseball statistic or political gaffe from 1982. If we become too literate in this kind of minutia, what kind of social creatures will we be?
I worry that our increasing genius will make us either insufferable know-it-alls or preoccupied with useless information. For example, at a party the other night, I found myself starting an impromptu trivia game based on my latest "random article" Wikipedia search. "You know what's interesting about Ukraine?" I said. "Everything!" I then proceeded to list for a helpless audience only the most interesting cultural points of interest from my new favorite Eastern European nation.
Not only does the Internet over-saturate our minds with this kind of esoteric and unverifiable knowledge, but it instills in us a false sense of confidence. The Internet lets us pretend to be experts on topics far and wide, whether we're a hypochondriac diagnosing our own headaches as a congenital defect or an anti-energy reform politician posing as a scientist. This web-based genius can make many an ignorant member of society undeservedly full of himself.
As human beings, we'd do better to remember that we will never perfect or complete our knowledge of the world. No matter how much time we dedicate to information gathering or google-ing, our minds won't ever be databases. It's droid C-3PO who is fluent in over six million intergalactic languages, not Jedi Luke or Princess Leia.
But the limits to what we can know, our too-small brains, are no flaw in human design. Rather, this is what makes us the engaging social beings we are, forcing us into organic conversation with one another in a genuine attempt to learn. I hope whatever we garner from each other in live and spirited discussion, always surpasses what we look up on e-How.com or read from anonymous Wikileaks.
I really don't mean to launch an attack on my most loyal companion. (Nor do I wish to bite the hand that feeds me!) But like the Maui Caramacs that sit on my desk, tempting me with their chocolate covered caramel deliciousness, the Internet is an addictive substance better enjoyed in slightly smaller servings.