The Internet during a recession: Welcome distraction or ruiner of dreams?


In the late 1990s, when I used to watch Fox Sports News in the morning before school, there used to me a commercial for the Wall Street Journal. Something about two kids, both alike in dignity, but one who was raised by a Wall Street Journal-reading family, and the other, ostensibly, by a pack of wolves; wolves don’t read too well. Naturally, the kid from the WSJ-reading family went on to become a wealthy middle class type, while the other, I don’t know, died a savage death while fighting for scraps of food underneath Veterans Stadium. The point is, there’s two ways to look at any given topic, like, say, the Internet. Is the Internet, in Recession America, the new nickelodeon, an outlet for the freshly jobless to waste their hours away? (That’s what the Wall Street Journal says.) Or, more sinisterly, is it the cause of needless panic and stress, causing us to freak out over things we have no control over? (That’s what the Financial Times says.) Fun!

Let’s take the bad news first, since I’m Mr. Cynical. The piece, an op-ed entitled “I have fallen into recession’s web of fear,” does, unfortunately contain a needless pun—why is it that newspaper headlines always seem to have stupid wordplay jokes?—but it explains why reading news, politics and financial Web sites and blogs isn’t necessarily a good idea. Sure, it’s one thing to be informed—I usually cruise two news sites in the morning, Drudge and the BBC—but it’s an entirely different thing to visit, say, the Huffington Post or Politico, and read hundreds of comments written by Crazy Nutjobs, from both the Right and the Left. “OBAMA IS A TERRORIST SENT TO MAKE US SOCIALIST” or “HANNITY IS A MEAN STUPID-HEAD WHO SHOULD BE SHUT DOWN FOREVER.” That sort of nonsense isn’t exactly helpful, right? How does reading that improve your day? What’s that, a wine-and-cheese type from Manhattan is now so broke that she’s begging for money on the street? The world is doomed, I’m doomed, we’re all doomed! AHHHHH!


Maybe the Internet isn’t so bad. Maybe people use it responsibly, play a few online games, watch an episode or two on Hulu, etc? Maybe the Internet, in this case, softens the blow of being unemployed, of being home all day and not getting interview call-backs? You know, maybe it serves a greater social purpose, like the cinema used to during past recessions and depressions? Rather than use the Internet to consume hate-filled garbage, maybe people are using Facebook to cope with being out of work, using Twitter to relay job openings back and forth? Thank you for being a friend, Internet!

So, in the end, the Internet is a tool. Just like anything else, it can be used for good or bad. You can use a paint brush to, say, paint something nice, or you can smash it over the head of your next-door neighbor, in true cartoon fashion.