500 Words: How much of our lives should go online, and should we try to stop it?


You are living two lives. One is the flesh and blood life you use to enjoy the scent of a spring day. The other is the life you lead on a global level, online. Weirdly, they are merging, becoming equally powerful and equally valid. You can’t smell a spring day online yet, but I’m sure they’re working on it.


With every click, heaps of data are being harvested about you. Your real world location is tracked using your cell phone. Your interests are recorded in pageviews. Your most embarrassing YouTube fetishes are a matter of record at Google, and they are for sale. The reasons for this data Mardi Gras were recently stated well in the New York Times by Stephen Baker.  “Growing legions of marketing consultants are pushing social media as the can’t-miss future. They argue that pitches are more likely to hit home if they come from friends on Facebook, Twitter, Tumblr, or Google+.  That’s the new word of mouth, long the gold standard in marketing.” Those people you call friends? Actually, they’re brand evangelists working for free.


But that might not be true. On this past November’s Black Friday, the biggest retail sales day of the year, 0.68 percent of sales came directly from Facebook, and sales from Twitter were too low to be measured. The Internet might not be the super marketing platform marketers tell us it is, but it will turn out to be a superstar for collaboration, market research, and personalized media. The Internet is developing as a delivery system for global connection. Until that’s fully baked, start training your cat if you want to make big money online.


The online world is not faceless. The design trend toward websites that have huge pictures of the people behind them tells you something. You better believe that people come to know you by how you appear online. Prospective employers and clients are Googling you first, then checking your resume, if you have a resume anymore. Your website is the window to your soul. Facebook is your face.


Online technology creates both rage and ecstasy. I chew out voicemail that banks use instead of having people answer the phone, and I curse at RAM shortages. Yet I am amazed at the information I touch every day. I can connect with people globally. I still yell at Skype when it fails. What the hell?  It’s free for now.


Should we  stop the runaway digitization of our lives? Absolutely. Write more handwritten notes. Make cheese and give it to friends. Draw diagrams on envelopes that came in the mail. Go to a place where there are people and talk to them. But also honor the parallel universe that is the online world, because it’s as real as the real one now. How do I know? Consider this one small change of habit. I used to clean the house every  Sunday, but I get more pleasure now when I delete 10 gigs off my hard drive.

Image credit: Codice Internet via Creative Commons License.