IMAGINE THE INTERNET AS A LIVING ORGANISM with one imperative, the imperative of all living organisms—sustaining and dispersing its genetic material, which for the internet is not DNA but bits of information, 0s and 1s. Now imagine that the vigilant internet noticed when its human hosts, fighting the extraordinary distraction that the internet had become, began to close their browsers, turn off their email, maybe even log off for periods of time—digital sabbaths—so they could get some real work done or have a real conversation with another human. Not enough humans were doing it yet to constitute an existential threat, but what if this behavior caught on, like using those Moleskine notebooks or calling pizza "flatbread"? That could be trouble on a much larger scale.
So the internet searched its own hivemind—the internet is good at search—and found the example of the parasite Toxoplasma gondii. Toxoplasma gondii wants to get inside the brains of cats. One way it does so is by first getting into the brains of rodents and altering their behavior, inducing them to engage in risky behavior that makes them more likely to being killed and eaten by cats. Diabolical. The internet, intent on propagating its 0 and 1 spores and getting them into the brains of humans, took all of this in and pondered for a while and hit on its own pathway into the brain: the smart phone. As media theorist Douglas Rushkoff has observed:
Instead of using email as something that sits there and the phone as something we have to go answer, we have started to think of email as something you have to go answer. We strap our devices to our bodies and have them vibrate every time somebody pings us or updates us or Facebooks us or tweets about us or tweets about something we might have tweeted about and have it vibrate and prod us for attention. We all end up living in this state of perpetual emergency interruption that used to be endured only by 911 operators and air traffic controllers.
The smartphone, a device everyone carries all the time, and never turns off, and is compelled to check dozens of times a day. A digital vector always at hand, from which the internet could alter our behavior to stream more of its 0s and 1s into our brain tissues.
Goddam smart, that internet.