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Davis, California

Monday, April 22, 2024

Column: Webaholics anonymous

Several years ago, at the tender age of 16, I lost my ability to spell. Now you may ask how it might have been that I lost that ability, but I think the more important question to ask is how I gained it back. I will do you the favor of answering both.

It was my sophomore year in high school; Western Civilization, second period. Mr. Johnson handed back my essay drenched in red ink. At the top he wrote: Learn how to spell.

It was true that my spelling was nothing short of atrocious and an insult to the English language. However, at such a young age I was stubborn and full of myself so I argued with Mr. Johnson for a better grade, convincing him that my spelling mistakes were an inherent part of the new generation where our dependence on technology and programs like “Spell Check” made it unnecessary to know how to spell.

Yes. I blamed it on technology. But is it not true? Ever since the dawn of the World Wide Web, I have found that activities I once enjoyed – like reading or spending time outdoors with friends – seemed so mundane and almost useless. Everything I needed to do, I could do on the internet.

No longer did I need to reach for a dictionary when Dictionary.com appears with the click of a button, and who knew reading the encyclopedia would be so much fun until Wikipedia came along. I could learn new things, talk with friends, communicate with long-lost relatives, watch movies, go shopping, even pay the bills — online! What couldn’t the internet do?

The internet made itself an essential part of my everyday life. First thing in the morning, before I would think about eating, brushing my teeth or getting dressed, I would open Google Chrome to the homepage, skim over the headlines in the news and proceed to my e-mail. While I waited for my e-mail page to load, I would hastily open up three other tabs to vital pages such as Facebook, YouTube and StumbleUpon.

I jumped back and forth like a maniac between these sites, scrolling mechanically through the news feed or browsing absent-mindedly through videos and pictures. And much like a robot, I would repeat this process compulsively several times throughout the day.

The internet is a drug — extremely addictive, and hard to kick. And like a drug, the absence of the internet gave me withdrawal symptoms. Without it, I felt disconnected from mankind and I would get a sick feeling in my stomach as though I had just lost a loved one. Also similar to a drug, the internet would bring me into a world much different from reality, a world that’s faster, easier and so much more entertaining.

But my English grade suffered and I couldn’t write essays without Spell Check as a crutch. My vocabulary waned to the point of non-existence and my new vernacular consisted of words like, “lol,” “omg,” and the ever-so-annoying “for realz.” Mr. Johnson was right. I had to learn how to spell – or in this instance, read, write and speak.

I slowly weaned off the internet by using it only when absolutely needed. And when I did use it, I would read the actual news, instead of just the headline. I did my homework without the distraction of Facebook, and when I wanted to look up a word, I flipped through the pages of a physical dictionary.

I can’t say I particularly enjoyed this new way of life, but my essays were returned with fewer and fewer red markings and I built my vocabulary to a level acceptable for my age group. What really mattered, though, was rediscovering a quaint and simple life sans instant gratification.

I found myself taking pleasure in holding a pen and watching my thoughts transform into calligraphy on paper. And the more detached I was from the virtual world, the more satisfying it was to spend a rainy day simply shifting through old books on my dad’s bookcase and, oddly enough, delight in the old musty smell of yellow-stained book pages.

So there does exist a world outside the perimeters of your LCD screen. It may not be flashy, bright and instantaneous, but since it is a world without borders, you’ll have many things to do and places to discover. This world requires that you touch and feel with your hands and not with a mouse, so it may take getting used to. But for everything you’ll gain, it’s also well worth a shot.

Give MICHELLE NGUYEN your thoughts on the internet at michellen1990@yahoo.com.

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