Falling down the rabbit hole

It started so innocently. I was looking for pictures for a video my wife and I were putting together for my father-in-law’s birthday. I needed one of a penguin, and a quick internet search turned up plenty, along with a story of Fraternite Notre Dame nuns forced to live without heat after their boiler broke.

I searched “nuns without heat” to see if I could donate, then spent 20 minutes trying to figure out how to use PayPal. This led to a short investigation into the safety of internet commerce, then to Penny Pritzker, current U.S. Secretary of Commerce, then to an article on when the Fed will raise interest rates.

Then my wife told me we had to leave so we could give the video to my father-in-law. Oops.

I’d fallen down the internet rabbit hole. Like Alice, I’d gotten wrapped up in the modern Wonderland that is the world wide web. (There’s a reason it’s called a web, by the way). I’d stayed too long at the digital tea party, distracted by Facebook, Twitter, ESPN and LifeHacker. Before too long, the proverbial White Rabbit appeared out of the corner of my eye: “Oh dear! Oh dear! I shall be too late!” And, just like that, I was.

The Mad Hatter would be proud of the many ways one can waste time online. On www.findtheinvisiblecow.com, one moves the cursor according to the volume of someone yelling “Cow!” until discovering the location of a hidden cow. On www.eelslap.com, one controls the speed and direction as a man is ... slapped by an eel. Is it any wonder we haven’t cured cancer yet?

One must approach the rabbit hole carefully when using the internet, much as one would when approaching a resting cobra. The intention might be to just take a peek, to stick our heads in only so far as to find what we need: That recipe for no-bake chocolate chip cookies; the score of last night’s Knicks game; an explanation of the final episode of The Sopranos. If we’re not careful, though, we soon find ourselves knee-deep in You Tube videos featuring talking cats.

Balance is nearly impossible in the rabbit hole. Inundated with so many choices, we can’t help but fall further in. That’s why there are software products designed to act as tethers, pulling us back to reality when we spend too much time playing Candy Crush instead of working on our taxes. It’s an expensive, and ultimately futile, way to keep us from walking through the myriad open doorways hyperlinked before us.

Like Wonderland itself, logic is not the currency of the realm when one browses the internet. The best of us fall prey. One minute we’re trying to find new ways to get in shape, and the next we’re lost. A search for “newest exercise equipment” leads to a page outlining the “latest exercise trends,” which leads to a You Tube video on “hottest exercise trends in gyms,” which leads to an article titled, “Baduanjin and Other Ancient Asian Exercises Back in Vogue,” which links to an article on how Eastern philosophies behind exercise lead to more effective weight loss, so we search for “hottest Asian exercise” and ... slam the laptop shut before anyone sees what just came up.

In the end, no one avoids the rabbit hole. The best we can do is escape with our heads. However, don’t perform a search for anything including “nuns” and “heat.” Just trust me on that one.

You can read more at RobertFWalsh.net and contact him at rob@RobertFWalsh.net or follow him on Twitter @RobertFWalsh.