This Carta a un joven internauta by the Brazilian liberation theology author Frei Betto that was just published on Adital on 11/9/2009 absolutely hits the nail on the head. I say that as someone whose life is constantly consumed by the Internet via work, Church activities and, simply, because there are many days when I feel more accepted and at home in cyberspace than in the so-called "real" world.
I know you spend long hours at the computer surfing in every direction available. I do not envy your adolescence. At your age I was embarking on student activism and I injected utopia into the veins. I had read everything by Monteiro Lobato and was starting into the works of Jorge Amado, led by "Capitanes de arena" ("Captains of sand").
I didn't like TV and after lunch I joined my gang in the street, surrendered to the emotion of youthful romance, or sat with my friends at the bar of a sandwich shop to discuss the New Cinema, bossa nova - because everything was new - or the works of Jean Paul Sartre.
I know that the Internet is a huge window on the world and history, and I usually paraphrase by saying that "Google is my shepherd, I shall not want..."
What worries me about you is the lack of cognitive synthesis. By sitting at the computer, you receive an avalanche of information and images, like the waves of lava from a volcano rush upon a village. Without clarity as to what really arouses your interest, you are not able to transform information into knowledge and entertainment into culture. You flit through endless sites while your mind drifts like a boat without a paddle, carried by the whim of the waves.
How much time do you waste trolling sites of dull conversation? Yes, it's okay to exchange messages with friends, but at least know what to say and ask. It's exciting to get lost in the virtual corridors of anonymous people accustomed to the game of hide and seek. But beware! That girl who so fascinates you by her spicy chatter might just be an old pedophile who, under the cloak of anonymity, is disguised as a beauty.
Beware of anyone who has nothing to do but dig in for hours of compulsive fingering, hunting the unwary who let themselves be dazzled by erotic messages.
Make good use of the Internet. Use it as a research tool to further your studies; visit sites that emit culture; learn the biographies of people you admire; study the history of your favorite era; look at the incredible images of the universe captured by the Hubble telescope; listen to symphonies and pop music.
But watch your health! Prolonged use of the computer can cause hand injuries through repetitive stress (read) and can cause you to become sedentary, obese, especially if next to the keyboard, you keep a bottle of soda and a bag of chips ...
Take care of your eyesight, increase the font size of the letters, let your eyes get distracted occasionally by a landscape other than just the monitor screen.
Pay attention: there is no free lunch. Do not be fooled by the idea that the computer costs just the electricity consumption, the monthly provider and Internet access fees. What keeps this machine running, the one on which I am writing this article, is advertising. Note that ads appear in every corner. They frame Google, the news, Wikipedia, etc.. It is consumerist pollution lurking near our subconsience.
Do not be enslaved by the computer. Do not let it steal from your leisure time, from reading a good book (paper, not virtual), from gatherings with your family and friends. Make it submit to the pace of your life. Put it to work only a few hours a day. Beat the rush that it provokes in many people.
And do not be fooled. The machine will never be more intelligent than the human being. It contains millions of bits of information but does not know anything. It is capable of winning at chess, but only because someone like you and me programmed it to play. It displays the best films and allows us to hear the most exciting music, but it will never be delighted by the extensive menu it offers us.
If you prefer the machine to people and use it as a refuge from your aversion to sociability, I recommend that you seek a doctor, because your self-esteem is very low and the computer will never tell you that you have to treat it as a virus. Or your self-esteem reaches the skies and you believe that there are no people at your level, so it is best to remain alone.
In both cases you are being cannibalized by the computer. And gradually you will become a merely virtual being. Which is no virtue at all, but rather the proof that you already suffer from a serious disease: electronic onanism syndrom.