Despite making a sizable chunk of my living as a freelance writer covering various technology-related topics, I only recently broke down and got a smartphone. Like any newbie with one of these gadgets, I gleefully spent my first few weeks taking advantage of instant Internet connectivity to look up stupid and obscure facts such as what one-hit wonder performed the song playing on the radio. Seemingly helpful and harmless stuff. But constant access to the facts, content and products we want, when we want it, is actually removing two thrills from modern life: the thrill of the unknown and the thrill of the hunt.
Entire evenings at bars could once be spent engaging in pointless, usually sports- or pop culture-related, debate. A dull night could be livened up by impassioned argument over what team won the World Series what year, or who starred in what cheesy ’80s teen comedy before becoming a major film star as an adult. Now with a few taps on a smartphone, any argument on any subject can be resolved and those on the losing end actually have to buy the agreed-upon rounds of beers that were usually forgotten when the answer was finally ascertained three weeks later.
But this is not the worst part. The worst part of constant connectivity is that the destination has all but eliminated the journey when it comes to finding something you want. Case in point: In my mid-20s, which was back in the mid-1990s when the Internet was still mainly the province of the Al Gores of the world, I made my first futile attempt at being a freelance writer. It was an effort that left me with a lot of spare time, which I filled in part by reading the collected works of patron saint of aimless searches Jack Kerouac and also by developing an interest in collecting obscure blues CDs (Napster was five years in the future). I would head to Boston-area used record stores (they were still called “record stores”) like Nuggets Records in Kenmore Square and Planet Records in Harvard Square and sift through remastered recordings of luminaries such as Howlin’ Wolf, Muddy Waters and John Lee Hooker.
In addition, despite my limited funds, a low cost of living resulting from being single with no kids and sharing a beat-up apartment with two other non-career-track twenty-somethings allowed me indulge myself in the premium cigar boom of the era. I would haunt local tobacco shops looking for unusual and new cigar brands, blends, flavors, shapes and sizes. Not the healthiest habit (and one I abandoned long ago), but a fun and relaxing, if smelly, way to pass the time.
Now I can find any blues recording, cigar, or most anything else I want instantly online, a magical destination which I now carry in my pocket, and have it downloaded to my device of choice or shipped to my house. No fuss, no muss. No fun. No thrill of the chase, no finding something or someone unexpected during my search.
Of course, I am being a bit hypocritical here. Easy access to information has allowed my second stint at freelancing, which began about six years ago, to proceed much more smoothly and successfully. I have literally written for a global roster of clients I mostly find online, and can quickly locate and contact an expert on any subject through networking sites such as LinkedIn. Research is a breeze, and my potential audience is almost limitless. I also must admit to Googling myself on on occasion.
Despite my unusual name, I share it with a former NHL goalie and a French-Canadian New Age musician who both get a good deal of Internet publicity. I cannot deny feeling pleasure at seeing my name creep up the Google rankings so that it is now consistently near or at top billing with these two other famous Daniel Berthiaumes, or seeing my images next to or even above theirs. I’m hardly famous, but my work gets far wider recognition than it ever would have without the constant connectivity I decry. I’m not sure how to deal with this situation that obviously is not going away – maybe I’ll indulge my sorrows by cranking up some old blues and puffing a stogie. Text me if you have any suggestions.