Digital Hunter Gatherer

My days go a lot like this:

  1. Wake up
  2. Open laptop
  3. Open browser and type, rapid fire:
    cmd+l, “f”, enter
    cmd+t, “re”, enter
    cmd+t, “new”, enter
  4. Consume content via link aggregators
  5. Repeat steps 3-4, interspersed with eating and bathroom breaks
  6. Wonder what happened my day between 10am and 2am.

Even now, as I wait for my thoughts to percolate down through the grey matter between my temples and into my fingertips, I find myself idly opening a new tab to look at my options. There, in the top left hand corner, is Facebook, followed by reddit, and then hackernews. Twitter is now relegated to its own honest-to-goodness desktop application.

I have a problem.

The only reason I haven’t repeated these steps three or more times since I started writing this blog post is because I blocked the offending sites using the SelfControl app. Even so, my fingers have instinctively opened new tabs, automatically typed the characters that would lead to sites that I hold in equal parts favor and hatred.

Unable to connect.

I am both relieved and resigned. I won’t pretend that this is an issue unique to myself, but I also won’t try to extrapolate on any larger trends as many an author would, eager to simplify and trivialize millennials by describing them en masse. Instead, I can only describe a problem that I’ve been experiencing – perhaps the symptom of a greater problem, but a problem nonetheless.

Hello. My name is Brian. And I am a digital hunter gatherer; an information addict.

I suspect it started with curiosity, a defining characteristic of humanity. There has always been curiosity, and dead cats to go along with it. It was curiosity that pushed us forward, because there was always something to explore and something to be gained by knowing what was over the next hill.

But more concretely, it was curiosity that led a young boy to computers, to using them, breaking them, fixing them, and eventually building them. It was curiosity that kept the computer monitor humming as he explored the world through tight lines of text, software menus, and the audacity of 16 million colors.

It must have been the satiation of curiosity that drove the development of the internet. It exploded like the big bang in every direction, accelerating outward. Search engines gradually tamed the chaos, and suddenly your curiosity about specific questions could be put to rest. If it was on the internet, it could (generally) be found. But what if you couldn’t formulate the question, or didn’t have a question in the first place? Well, the internet arose to this challenge, as well, by telling us what our peers thought – fellow internet users, friends, and family – or what they were consuming. But still, the internet is not satisfied. The next frontier is knowing us better than we know ourselves. Now not only do we have our answers provided and our questions preempted, but the very act of exploration itself is being automated. We don’t need to sample music, trade recommendations for books, or take a guess on a movie – those are things that a computer can do for us.

Granted, it’s efficient and becomes more accurate everyday. As a species, we are becoming more and more efficient at consuming media we didn’t even know we wanted. And I, the dutiful hunter gatherer that I am, I return to my tribe with the prime choices of data products, the delicious fruit lying out of reach of the casual internet user. I survey the internet with a practiced eye, easily picking out the links ripe with upvotes as well as the hidden gems. And when push comes to shove, I am as adept a hunter as I am a gatherer, with a well trained search engine at my heel. The land of the internet is fertile and sustenance can be found as easily as air.

But sometimes I load those three websites without a conscious thought and wonder to myself – is this all that I am?

When I turn my eye inward, I find a much different landscape. What was once the curiosity in me lies on a worn mat, an old dog with a few tricks and no passion. It knows it will be fed. Cabinets and cabinets full of meaningless conquests litter a creaky house whose foundation had begun to go without my realizing or, perhaps, acknowledging it. Outside, the plants have withered in a drought, and all is a dull, reddish orange color.

I am a hunter-gatherer when what my soul requires is a gardener.

Recently I’ve become convinced that there are some problems that we must live through in order to truly come to terms with. Even if one can fully grasp the logical ins and outs of the predicament, there are no magic bullets. There is no article you can read on the internet that will cure depression, no cat video that will make you happy for all time. There is no forum that will grant you reprieve from your past mistakes. Yes, the solutions are out there, but they are not berries to be gathered or game to be hunted. They are nothing but seeds, a frighteningly small handful of them, and months to come before harvest, acres to be tilled before tasting freedom.

That old dog doesn’t know where to go, now that I’ve blocked its way. Maybe it will stay with me awhile to breathe in the smell of newly turned dirt. In the soft darkness, we will wait for the seeds to grow, as companions once again.