Sunday, January 16, 2000

With the Internet, it's too easy to disconnect




BY PAUL DAUGHERTY
The Cincinnati Enquirer

        In some cities now, you can buy your groceries online. You can order your Wheaties and Cheez-Whiz and Ajax and have them delivered free.

        Grocery shopping was really the last reason to leave the house for anything. Now, there is no reason to go anywhere. There is no need to bother with people.

        You already could get the essentials delivered: Pizza and videos. Now, you can get everything else. This is the genius of the Internet. If you want to call it that.

        If you want a book, click on Amazon. If you want music, download it. If you need a non-prescription drug, order it online. If you want a TV dinner, a new car, a can of Raid . . .

        Why go out and actually talk to people when you can . . . chat?

        You could do better shopping at home than at the mall. I just bought an out-of-print collection of Jim Murray's sports columns I'd been seeking in used bookstores for years. It was as easy as click, click and click.

        I'm glad I have the book. But would I have traded it for the time I spent in those bookstores?

        We're wired, all right. A decade ago, America Online was a penny stock. On Monday, it paid $165 billion in stock for Time Warner.

        The Internet is the future. We're being told that's great. Well, I guess.

        People have searched for years for better ways to avoid each other. We live in suburbs, in homes with air conditioning and without porches. We have security systems, tinted windows and caller ID. We don't have to deal with anyone we don't want to deal with. We don't have to deal with anyone at all.

        We've perfected that.

        But when you start replacing social institutions with computer access, is that progress?

        What do you tell your kids? It's a big, beautiful world in here, boys and girls. Desk, modem, mouse, monitor. You need to grab it and shake it for all it's worth. So c'mon in and start clicking.

        A 26-year-old in Dallas is already doing it. He had his name legally changed to DotComGuy. Starting Jan. 1, he vowed to live off the Internet for a year, never leaving his apartment.

        You can log-on to www.dotcomguy.com and watch him. You can share his experience without having to deal with him. Another virtual first.

        But in this age of quantum leaps in communication, we communicate less than ever before. Our opinions are flattened by political correctness. Our conversation is muted by fears of offending someone.

        So, we shut down, shut up and stay home. The country is becoming more ethnically and racially mixed. But instead of reaching out, we're logging on. Virtual is easier than actual.

        Life is messy and complex. It's a big, bad world out there. But also worth knowing, and I don't mean virtually.

        Because of the Internet, it's simple to be connected and disconnected at the same time. All you do is click.

        Yahoo.

        I hope DotComGuy is a gimmick. I fear he's a trend.

        Paul Daugherty, an Enquirer sports columnist, writes a lifestyle column on Sunday. He welcomes your comments at 768-8454.