Often when my students complain about a homework or test problem's difficulty, I remind them that their reaction is the brain's natural response. No other organ in the body demands as much energy, which is why the brain comes with a built-in joule-saving device. It is what inclines us to seek quick-fixes and easily-derived pleasures, but, as we all know, low-cost items of both the material and spiritual realm are not always linked to our long-term interests.
I find personal computers a fascinating example of how personal choice can shape our lives. The early existentialists would have loved them as an example of how existence precedes essence. PC's can be easily turned into self-stimulatory devices that help feed addictive behaviours, or they can be great creative tools and efficient means of sharing imaginative work and ideas. The choice is ours, but because they can serve us so easily with minimal input on our part, our brains will constantly have trouble overlooking their potential to act as toys, television sets, gambling machines and duplicators of media. The unsurprising catch about the computer revolution is that its wonderful potential never materializes without good-old fashioned knowledge, talent, motivation and hard work on the part of the user.. What good is Photoshop when the photographer does not have an eye for good lighting? The best movies combine special effects with human drama. When they try to seduce us solely with technology, we feel cheated. Word processors are wonderful at facilitating typing and creating presentable products, but they do not reduce the amount of thinking needed to produce quality-writing.
It is not surprising that most web sites started by people end up abandoned. Out of those that remain, many feed personal obsessions. Even though this wonderful means of communication is available to anyone with an ISP, it is not easy to put up and maintain a page that will survive the test of time and be valuable to society as a whole. Because of the energy-cost of the endeavour, only what a few brains assemble will be worthy.
In the mid-nineties, when the World Wide Web was just taking off, I remember someone writing that web-surfing had been fun for a while but that he was going back to real surfing. How right he was. The computer experience is one that appeals to sight and hearing. But you can't taste the salt of the sea or feel anything physically present as in true surfing. When I spent evenings web-surfing, playing scrabble (an addiction that was hard to overcome) or trying to find good stocks, I was doing less of other things I enjoyed: reading; watching movies with my kids; going for a refreshing late night walk or gazing at the stars. The latter choices provide me with a better contact with reality, which may be bitter at times, but it is a better alternative to a sometimes tasteless digital world.