Today's Fat Tuesday. That means tomorrow is the start of Lent, the season of self-denial immortalized in the Josh Hartnett film 40 Days and 40 Nights, and possibly also in the Bible somewhere. Time to think about making improving changes!
For Mike Huckabee, that might mean not making any more comments about Natalie Portman's upcoming child or Barack Obama's childhood, or really anything with the word child in it. For Charlie Sheen -- well, who knows.
And me? For Lent, I'm giving up Googling myself.
It's going to be hard. But I decided it was time to cut the cord.
So today I'm sitting here Googling with wild abandon. This is going to be a great Fat Tuesday, or Mardi Gras, or Shrove Tuesday if you want to get really liturgical about it. It's like scratching an itch. Later you feel guilty and require ointment, but for the moment, you're on cloud nine.
But what does this itch mean? What am I really hoping to achieve here?
It's been said that writing on the Internet is like dropping a rose petal into the Grand Canyon and waiting for the echo. And how better to find that echo than Google? The Internet is a buffet of information, if every time you were about to get out of a buffet it offered you a slideshow of Things Your iPad Secretly Thinks About Sarah Palin.
For most of us, Web 2.0 is like being addicted to social drinking. We're all in it together, so it can't possibly be a problem, right?
Besides, I'm not addicted to the Internet. I can say this definitively, because I took a test. Online.
Admittedly, the test set the bar fairly high.
"How often do you find that you stay online longer than you intended?" it asked. Given that I opened Firefox two days ago to try to find a cheap flight to Los Angeles and am still online, I think we know how that turned out. I'm not saying I tried to take my laptop into the shower with me so that I could stay plugged into the "social media conversation," but none of the keys are working now and it smells a lot like strawberries.
"Do you neglect household chores to spend time online?" the test asked. I am writing this under a giant mound of unwashed laundry, which I have convinced myself "adds character to the room." I think it's becoming sentient. A visitor stopped by because I hadn't come out in several days and he was worried I'd turned into a giant cockroach like those people in Kafka novels, and it chased him around the room and beat him over the head with a belt.
I admitted all this to the quiz, and it still told me I was fine! So long as you don't "block out disturbing thoughts about your life with soothing thoughts about the Internet" or snarl at your family as they try to tear the keyboard from your cold, carpal-tunnel-ridden hands, you're in the clear -- according to the quiz, at any rate.
Still, for me, the Internet isn't really the problem; it's that it lets me be addicted to something far more pernicious: myself. The Internet can inform you about the world beyond, but it is also a vast repository of egodata. It's not that I don't already have a lot of information about myself; I've lived in here for decades now! But the Internet offers a tantalizing window into What Other People Might Think. And especially when you are professionally engaged to toss your thoughts, daily, into the online canyon, it's nice to know that there's someone out there on the receiving end, even if that person thinks you have the literary talent of a used Buick. But in the scheme of things, this isn't important -- it's distracting. And that little jolt of adrenaline at seeing your name cross someone else's keyboard is just tantalizing enough to trick you into thinking that such things matter.
So this Lent isn't one of those stunts to See If You Can Go Without The Internet. As any number of past stunts like that have proved, the answer -- sadly -- is, you can't. How will you be able to "like" things? We can't pretend it isn't there. That's like giving up all medicine because you have a weakness for Purple Drank. We just have to learn how to use it responsibly. For me, that means no more self-Googling. For Lent, at any rate.
And as long as I'm ditching the egodata, I might as well go whole hog. That's right: I'm unfollowing Charlie Sheen on Twitter.