Browsing in Traffic

Hold it. Before you accuse me of offering ill-founded (if not illegal) advice to browse the web while driving (which, I suppose, is certainly a less dangerous activity than texting as you are in a read-only mode), I would like to make it clear that I am pondering on the nuances of browsing in digital traffic.

Readers who are old enough to remember will no doubt recall the good old days of leisurely reading through the daily newspaper or the weekly magazine without having to be on high alert to respond to the barrage of messages arriving on your smart phone (smart, really?!) in millisecond intervals. Perish the thought and move on to contemporary times and join the digital highway.

When the first digital version of my favorite newspaper came out, I was thrilled because I no longer had to wait for my dad to finish reading all the editorial essays and solve the world’s problems before I could get a chance to look at the sports headlines (our family code of ethics prevented separation of pages in the newspaper or jumping the hierarchy). And the wait for the paper boy to whizz by on his vehicle of choice followed by retrieval of the item of interest from the garbage dump into which it was regularly thrown was over. Everything was (your favorite smiley face here).

But my happiness was short-lived. First, it was the plethora of newspapers on the Net competing for one’s attention. Unlike the physical paper, every one of which had to be paid for, the digital media was free. Add to this the variety of periodicals and nameless news feeds that I had succumbed to by providing my email address during brain-dead moments, I was in a traffic jam worse than my worst nightmare on an interstate highway.

Let us move on to the next stage of this saga. After serious pursuit of meditation and yoga principles, I discipline yours truly to practice amnesia on non-essential web links and limit myself to browsing only the chosen sites. However, I soon realize, to my horror and dismay, that all the traffic on the Internet gets routed to the one site that I am on at any point in time. There are pop-ups (I have never been good at playing whack-a-mole), alerts (my computer seems to be a living encyclopedia of real and imaginary viruses), greyed content (why has everything gone so dark? where is the ‘close’ button on this moving gadget on the screen?),  one-question surveys (please, let me read the paper first before giving an opinion on the news), advertisements for defibrillators (how do they know about my recent heart attack?) and offers for my evening soup (is there a secret camera above my dining table?) – all superimposed on the one paragraph that I am desperately trying to read. It feels more like playing a video game than browsing a newspaper.

After fighting a losing battle for several days, I find myself sheepishly standing next to my dad with his face buried in his (physical) paper – ‘Dad, I would like to catch up on some sports news’!