It’s Time to Admit That the Internet Is Bad for Us

Television was supposed to be the ultimate idiot box. Then came the internet.

Timothy Kreider
GEN
Published in
8 min readMar 13, 2020

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Photo illustration (Image source: Jeffrey Coolidge/Getty Images)

SSometime in the 1990s, most of my friends and I got rid of our TVs. This was how you could tell who the interesting, literate people were. If you went to a party where people were talking about whatever was on last night, you knew to make an excuse to go get another drink and find someone else to talk to. Writers could use this as a kind of shorthand: You knew that young Leslie Burke in Bridge to Terabithia and Clarisse McClellan in Fahrenheit 451 came from families of intellectual freethinkers because they didn’t have TVs at home. The subversive cinema made by the first generation of television’s children — Blue Velvet, Brazil, Repo Man, Videodrome — made TV viewing look about as cool as a lobotomy, something old folks enshrouded on couches did to euthanize their brains.

But then, only a few years later, everybody was online. And people are far more uncritical of the internet than they ever were of TV. Everyone laments it, but no one doesn’t have it. The internet is now as ubiquitous as TV ever was and as indispensable as the telephone: You need it for work and for news; to make plans and get invitations, directions, and dates; to listen to music and watch TV or movies; to look at cat memes and porn. Not having Wi-Fi in your home is more unthinkable than not owning a TV ever was: It makes you not just a pretentious Luddite, but a bad host, like expecting your guests to use an outhouse. The newest-model phone is breaking news, and having an obsolete one can get you made fun of. It’s like the unprovoked jeering that vegans have to endure from carnivores, or the reflexive snarls you provoke among gun owners or other addicts if you suggest that the thing they’re dependent on might possibly have some bad side effects.

I can already hear younger readers mocking my old-guy technophobia. Every generation suffers a sort of Stockholm syndrome toward their own era, reflexively defending the conditions that formed them, no matter how they may have disfigured them. My own cohort, Gen X, straddled the creation of the internet; I didn’t get an email account until I was in my mid-thirties. (I’m a “late adopter,” the marketing pejorative for insufficiently credulous…

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Timothy Kreider
GEN
Writer for

Tim Kreider is the author of two essay collections, and a frequent contributor to Medium and The New York Times. He lives in NYC and the Chesapeake Bay area.