I illegally stream the director’s cut of Watchmen on my laptop and stop it halfway through, deciding instead to google Rorschach blots and psychologically evaluate myself. This reminds me of blood splatter, and soon I’m an expert on the JFK assassination and the Zapruder film. The webpage on Kennedy’s legacy leads me to the Wikipedia article on First Ladies, where I’m delighted to discover three of the first four first ladies were named Martha, which reminds me of Superman. I google the character and realize that he was created by two Jewish artists at a time they felt powerless as a culture amidst mass global tragedy. And because they felt weak, they projected their vision of hope onto a god.
I’m a god. At my fingertips I can order some well-cooked chard or purchase a well in Chad. With a couple of eloquently-worded messages, I could save a life or prompt someone to end theirs. I do all of this without even having to change out of the silky Perry Ellis boxer shorts I had Amazon-drone-shipped to my doorstep this morning, a package I didn’t even have to stand to receive because I Craigslisted a homeless man browsing a local library’s internet to come to my abode and carry the box from the front porch to my basement recliner in exchange for a couple of bucks and a can of Coke. While I marvel my power to purchase at will a keychain made of Capuchin monkey testicles or capsules banned in most industrialized countries that’ll dye my urine neon blue, I hear my grandpa in the other room complaining about how kids these days don’t connect with each other because of the internet. In angered opposition, I imagine myself creating a fake Facebook account posing as his deceased wife manifesting herself through lines of code and trying to connect with him like the first act of a Demi Moore movie. I don’t catfish my grandfather, but I find a fair amount of satisfaction in the fact that I could. I could do anything. I’m a superman.
I’m on YouTube now; I stumble across a teenager posting his first video singing a jazzy cover of an already lackluster Black Keys tune. He’s off-key, even by YouTube standards, and a strange subdivision of my subconscious begins screaming:
“The world has seven billion people on it, and even if only 5% of them are musicians, there are still 350 million people fighting for the same shot of relevance as you. And if you can’t be better than the thirty other singers on your college campus, what makes you think you’ll survive one second out there with the sharks? Actually, screw that. They don’t need to be sharks to kill you. There are 350 million minnows crammed into a puddle! Attrition will do the job, because if you can’t be a better singer than Sandy the sophomore Psych major, then any confidence that you could stand toe-to-toe with anyone of note should be Styrofoam crushed under the tiniest weight of reality caving in around you!”
My comment is lost in the sea of similarly-worded messages. Annoyed and bored, I open up a new tab and starting googling blank canvases. I imagine at some point an old cleric angrily mumbling at his grandson spending all of his time painting instead of praying. And then the grandson would find another painter, and they would share canvases and find comfort in that sense of community. Then I picture a young Hermann Rorschach spilling a bucket of ink onto a canvas, splattering it around, and his friends would come up giggling and say, “Hey, you painted a penis!”
And Hermann Rorschach would say, “I have simply spilt ink, Jimmy, and the fact that you’ve projected the male anatomy onto an otherwise abstract collection of blots hints at your own insecurities. My blot is neither good nor evil; it simply is.”
“It simply is a penis.”
And then his friends would laugh and walk away while Rorschach scowled that his ignorant peers failed to understand the subjective nature of reality.
Because of this daydream, I find myself once again on the Hermann Rorschach Wikipedia page and note how similar he looks to acclaimed actor Brad Pitt, specifically in the Tarantino film Inglourious Basterds, which takes place during World War II, and now I’m back on the page for Superman.
I open Google Earth and stare down at the ocean from miles above. Its vastness will never cease to amaze me, and I smile knowing that both Captain Nemo and Finding Nemo find their inspiration from the same interconnected waters. The same currents bounce the corpses of Titanic victims among swordfish and giant squid, and deep below the dark threshold of caverns our cameras cannot reach are dozens of monstrous beasts we have yet to see. The ocean feeds both dolphins and angler fish like the internet holds both adorable videos of cats just a few clicks and taps away from child pornography.
I take a look at my tabs and begin to count them. I have almost a dozen tightly-packed icons across the top of my browser, and written on each tab is the headline of the page that it represents. Three tabs of Facebook. One tab of Superman’s character biography and one open for each of his creators. One on the Holocaust, and one that connects to an African well-building charity. I’ve got a tab up on a couple of serial killers I had been researching earlier in the day and a YouTube video playing Josh Garrels’s Ulysses. The last tab open is the Google Doc I had opened earlier to take notes in my American History class.
I click on that and begin browsing through my transcript, contrasting events like the bombing of Nagasaki with the rise of Elvis Presley. It’s almost cyclical, the pattern of good things following bad ones. Again and again this happens, dark against light, black against white.
The charicature of old men scowling at their younger millennial counterparts for typing more words than they speak stems from the fact many outside of the people-connecting community of the WWW don’t seem understand that the internet is history. And though sometimes we as a species find ourselves trying to erase the past hour of our history—both metaphorical in the sense of events like Argentinian genocide and literally for some in the sense of porn— we cannot escape the fact that the internet simply exists to collectively compile everyone’s relative take on what has transpired. It collects documents from thousands of years ago and it saves the time you mistakenly clicked on coolmeth.com when looking for fun algebra-related trivia games. At the drop of a hat, one could poll the current emotional states from all of one’s friends with a simple IM of “hey how r u? ur not suicidal r u lol?” and this kind of instantaneous accessibility to knowledge intimidates many. Many folks tend to believe that constant and immediate gratification will condition new generations to have lower attention spans rather than teach them to utilize their time in a more efficient manner. Younger folks are too enamored with the positive outcomes one can receive from such a technology that they notice not the negative ramifications often intertwined with the responsibility of maintaining an online presence. Both sides of the spectrum have valid trepidations, as any one object could be used for either good or evil.
Take, for instance, the blink-and-you’ll-miss-it scene from the 1966 Adam West Batman, in which the titular hero opens up a cabinet containing Whale-Repllent Bat Spray. Now, we can all imagine circumstances in which having this canister could save lives, such as if a flock of angry sperm whales begin harassing your nephew. In events such as these, having such a powerful weapon could be effective and in good taste. However, this very neutral spray could also be used to round up hundreds of baby belugas into a net to be delivered to Chum Incorporated. Almost anything could be used for heroic or nefarious purposes. The internet, an amalgam of literally everything, is no exception. It serves quite primarily as a means of connecting people, and since people are as varied as the tabs in my browser, that could mean connecting a Harvey Milk to an MLK, or it could mean bringing together Pol Pot and Jeffery Dahmer.
My computer dings. I receive a Facebook message from a friend wanting to meet me at the local Taco Bell in fifteen minutes. I ask my grandfather for permission, who willingly gives it glad that I’ll be connecting to people for the first time today. I bid adieu to the Swiss man I’d been chatting with online, turn off my computer, and go outside.