Jacob Mikanowski reviews three recent academic books on what the internet is doing to our minds: The App Generation, Status Update, and It’s Complicated (all published by Yale University Press.) Mikanowski writes:
I used to ask the internet everything. I started young. In the late 1980s, my family got its first modem. My father was a computer scientist, and he used it to access his computer at work. It was a silver box the size of a book; I liked its little red lights that told you when it was on and communicating with the world. Before long, I was logging onto message boards to ask questions about telescopes and fossils and plots of science fiction TV shows.
I kept at it for years, buying new hardware, switching browsers and search engines as needed. And then, around 2004, I stopped. Social media swallowed my friends whole, and I wanted no part of it. Friendster and Myspace and Facebook—the first great wave of social networking sites—all felt too invasive and too personal. I didn’t want to share, and I didn’t want to be seen.
So now, 10 years on, Facebook, iMessaging, and Twitter have passed me by. It’s become hard to keep up with people. I get all my news—weddings, moves, births, deaths—second-hand, from people who saw something on someone else’s feed. I never know what’s going on. In return, I have the vain satisfaction of feeling like the last real human being in a world of pods. But I am left wondering: what am I missing out on? And is everyone else missing out on something I still have?