I have an uncommon aversion to talking to most people I meet. It is powered by the twin engines of my disinterest in the public contents of their brain, and my inability to get the things that might interest me out of them in a way that doesn’t make either of us uncomfortable. It leads me to come up with long tirades about boringness, predictabity, and shallowness which are neither flattering to their subjects nor myself.
It was in the midst of a conversation about this basic issue that I think I may finally have arrived at a somewhat interesting and novel point: the internet has made me more averse to average conversations than I otherwise would be. I doubt that it’s true that the internet is the reason that I have this basic aversion, but I do think it’s true that nature of the internet exacerbates this tendency I have in a way that’s led to extra consternation in myself and the people who are subjected to the effects of this aversion.
It’s relevant but not crucial that I note in advance that I came of age at the same time as the internet. I’m not completely certain, but I vaguely recall that I first used the internet at age 8. It was dialup, I had little conception of how to use it, but I knew that with the help of my parents it could take me to Nintendo.com, and that’s all I wanted to see anyway. As I got older, we got faster modems and I saw broader and more interesting things on the internet. In 17 years a lot has changed on this little old network, and I’ve seen a lot of it, intently watching from the front row.
The internet represents, to my mind, nearly the whole of useful knowledge. That’s hardly to say that everything interesting that’s ever existed is on the internet, but there is at least some testimony to those things that are interesting and not on the internet which can be found on the internet. Surely in a pre-internet age I might have been making this same basic point—X is more compelling to me than most people—about TV, radio, newspapers, magazines, or books; but because of my age I’ll be talking primarily about the internet.
Because of the permissive access the internet allows, I believe some things that would be unfathomable to people in the past. I believe that information is something in nearly infinite supply from nearly infinite sources more reliable than any single person I’ve ever known. Knowledgeable opinions are so dime-a-dozen to me that the idea that I’d want a person’s uninformed opinion about anything strikes me as laughable. Things that make me laugh? I reliably secure that on the internet, and it’s way funnier than even the funniest comedian (it, after all, contains all comedians). These beliefs culminate in this basic issue: what do you get from talking to other people that I can’t get better on the internet?
As information gathering pursuits, conversations are deeply broken. They’re useful as bias-gathering journeys, but few people have biases interesting enough to keep me attentive. People cite a sense of camaraderie that can be engendered by conversation, but I’ve never been aroused to one by idle chit-chat about the weather, sports, news headlines, or the latest events of a person’s lfe. Surely there are other benefits people think conversations provide, but it’s not useful for me to offer one sentence rebuttals to all of them.
My basic point, though, isn’t to rehash the reasons that most conversations feel hollow. It’s to convey the idea that as information becomes more universally available (something that’s been happening since the printing press, but has accelerated in the age of the internet), the value of the knowledge held by any single person declines. And the value of the information held by an average person becomes ever less remarkable. This very reality—that few people possess any knowledge or wisdom that can’t be more reliably found elsewhere—is doubtless one of the reasons that I possess such a virulent strain of conversation aversion.
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