"Last week I realised the internet wants to kill me." The Guardian's Charlie Brooker specializes in humorous rants, and this opening suggests another Brooker gem. But though there are plenty of signature flourishes in this op-ed, at its heart is an earnest issue. For Brooker, Google Instant is the breaking point in the Internet's relentless obsession with speed:
It's the internet on fast-forward, and it's aggressive--like trying to order from a waiter who keeps finishing your sentences while ramming spoonfuls of what he thinks you want directly into your mouth, so you can't even enjoy your blancmange without chewing a gobful of black pudding first.
He dismisses the idea that saving a few seconds per search is revolutionary, "the best thing since sliced time." Time-saving technology does not equal productivity, Brooker argues, describing his attempt to write a script in a quiet room with a laptop:
My attention span was never great, but modern technology has halved it, and halved it again, and again and again, down to an atomic level, and now there's nothing discernible left. Back in that room, bombarded by alerts and emails, repeatedly tapping search terms into Google Instant for no good reason, playing mindless pinball with words and images, tumbling down countless little attention-vortexes, plunging into one split-second coma after another, I began to feel I was neither in control nor 100% physically present. I wasn't using the computer. The computer was using me--to keep its keys warm. (Apart from "enter", obviously. I didn't even have to press that.)
This sort of scenario is familiar to those following recent discussions on the effect of the Internet on the human brain. For Brooker, the Google Instant provocation led him to try out something called the "Pomodoro Technique," in which you "try to work without interruption for 25 minutes," take a five-minute break, and then repeat. Reports Brooker: "Just as muscles ache the morning after your first exercise in months, so I can feel my brain ache between each 25-minute bout of concentration." But there's also "a flickering sense of control." He's going to stick with it, "rationing [his] internet usage and training [his] mind muscles for the future." Brooker ends with something the mind-Internet debate doesn't see often: a call to arms. "For me," writes Brooker, "the war against the machines has started in earnest."
This article is from the archive of our partner The Wire.