We all suck at the internet

This article first appeared in the Brisbane Courier Mail

The internet sucks and so do we.

There was so much promise. The finest literature, historical texts, scholarly research and artworks are all available for free online. The best of human history and its more widely available than ever before, but nobody, including myself, is looking at it.

Instead we’re on social media, getting jealous of lives people are pretending to lead.

Browser window shopping, for stuff we don’t need.

Checking medical advice, so we can obsess over ailments we don’t have.

On the train everyone is so submerged in it, they don’t notice the guy watching porn with the sound up. Lining up for coffee and scrolling through news headlines about half-scandals, they miss the senior citizen juggling while riding by on a unicycle. Walking home, there’s a woman facing but ignoring the sunset as she scrolls through Facebook. At the playground, a guy waves away his kids because he’s glued to football scores.

The way we obsessively use our phones to avoid them, you’d think being bored, socializing, or looking around at the actual world were the three most deadly diseases.

Ask Google any question, and in seconds it returns millions of answers that are nothing to do with the original question. It’s like asking a radio for directions.

The trap is that at least one of Google’s non-answers are so appealing that I can’t help but click. Then an hour later I’m perseverating over the most adorable German Shephard cross-bread, and flicking through Kim Jong-un memes, and I’ve again forgotten why I got online in the first place, and to pick up anything for dinner.

The internet has become so adept at tapping the same pleasure center in our brain that’s activated by alcohol, heroin, gambling and porn, that it’s making us dumber and fatter, and obliterating our attention spans.

That amazing reservoir of information is also all online though. Meaning the problem isn’t the internet at all, it’s us and how we choose to use it.

If the majority of us are failing into the same trap, however, whose fault is that? Us, or the trap?

If there’s a mountain people keep falling off, we put up a fence. Hot drinks come with lids and warnings that they’re hot, and almost everything that’s addictive comes with a warning, restriction, or is illegal.

Some of the internet is already under an ineffective childproof cap, how long before the rest of it is covered in warnings like a cigarette packet? It won’t be long before texting in the car is as heavily penalized as drink driving, as it’s just as dangerous.

I wish none of that was necessary, and that we evolved to use the internet sparingly and for longer lasting instead of immediate gratification. That we used it as a tool, instead of a crutch. To enhance what makes us uniquely human, not dilute, deaden and suppress it. The tale of human history, however, isn’t one of impulse control. It’s of continually inventing new and better ways to make money by exploiting the worst parts of ourselves.

All of which is very interesting and well worth exploring more, but I’m just about to catch a train, so it’s time to place a bet, check my email, collect some gems, and watch some porn.

This article first appeared in the Brisbane Courier Mail

Xavier Toby is a writer and comedian.

His second comedy memoir ‘Going Out of My Mined’ is available now.

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