Street Talk: In 17 minutes I’ll be smart again

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I would appreciate it this morning if you could refrain from asking me for the capital of Utah.

It would likewise be helpful if you could avoid hitting me up for lyrics to obscure old songs, such as “Run, Joey Run” or “Shannon.”

I would consider it a personal favor if you’d not provoke me with trivia questions like, “Who played the mayor of Amity in ‘Jaws,'” or, “What is the medical term for the pinkie toe?”

Thanks, buddy. It means a lot.

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So, I turned off the Internet. I didn’t fail to pay my bill or do something stupid with my winsock. I voluntarily shut her down. Yup. Just clicked the little icon marked “Freedom” and there she went, not with a bang but a whimper.

Actually, it wasn’t even a whimper. Something as ethereal as the World Wide Web ceased to exist for me with nary a sound.

Crap, did I spell ethereal right? I don’t know. I can’t look it up on dictionary.com and who keeps a real dictionary on hand anymore?

I shut down the Internet through this Freedom program because it’s been bugging the heck out of me. I keep trying to write my next novel, tomorrow’s column or a really good limerick and the Internet just won’t let it happen. The Internet is like a strung-out junkie pacing around my chair, enticing me with chatter.

It’s that little red number atop my Facebook page alerting me that somebody somewhere has made a comment somehow relevant to my life.

It’s that person I barely know who posted a YouTube video with the message “you have to see this!” which is — I mean, come on — practically a legal demand that I watch it.

It’s the little envelope in the lower right corner advising that I have a new email, possibly exciting beyond all measure, that I have not yet read.

Oh, sure. It’s probably spam. Or at best, just another note from my pal Randy, a new bachelor, bragging about what he made, all by himself, for dinner.

But how do I know? Unless I click that little icon, how do I know it’s not an email from a dying, forgotten uncle who wants to give me all of his money before he croaks? If I don’t open it, how can I be sure it’s not from Random House, apologizing for missing my first five novels and begging to pay me a huge advance for the next five?

So, I’ve got to open it. And by doing so, I’ll get sucked into another long conversation about Randy’s four-decker lasagna and while I’m there, the red number on Facebook will grow larger and more tantalizing.

I tried shutting down email and closing the Facebook page. But then the instant messages started to get me, springing up like mushrooms in a wet basement. Instant-message programs are everywhere. Facebook has one of its own. Google has one bundled right into its homepage. Yahoo and AOL and ICQ are still around and if you don’t download their software, they’ll send someone over to your house to chat you up in person.

The Internet is like one of those mutant itches you can’t make go away. It’s hard to reach and if you do manage to get your claws on it — by using your wife’s favorite tongs, say — it just moves somewhere else. Shut down your browser completely and some fool will Skype your butt. Delete Skype and, will you look at that! The same fool called back through Google Chat!

The Internet will suck your motivation like a high-speed vampire. You think you’re going in there to do research on — Oh, I don’t know. How to isolate an isotope or perform do-it-yourself pet neutering. Next thing you know, your old social studies teacher is chatting you up on Facebook (you always suspected she was a drinker) and there’s a must-see video wherein a man in a cowboy hat goes all Bernie Goetz on his daughter’s laptop.

You have good intentions, but then you get Rick Rolled by the Web itself. It happens to all of us. If Prometheus had been blessed with an Internet connection, we’d still be eating our meat raw and shivering in the dark. If Christopher Columbus had been online, he might have stayed home to surf porn instead of sailing off into the big blue. Where would we be then, huh? That’s right. No Columbus Day sales.

You have to wonder how many great novels will not get written because the would-be author got sucked into Hulu instead of following his muse. How long will we have to wait for a unified theory because some savant in the capital of Utah (still no idea) got hooked on “World of Warcraft” instead of putting together beautiful strings of numbers?

Shut up. I know WoW is, like, so 2008. I don’t have the Internet! I can’t go to Google to find out what has replaced it as the Next Big Thing!

There was a time when I came home every night and obediently wrote 5,000 words of fresh prose. Sometimes more. That was when the only distractions were television, the phone and the occasional pity date. But those were easily turned off (you see what I did there?). None of them had the gravitational pull of the Internet.

These days, I struggle for 2,000 words. It ain’t right. So the Internet had to go.

I downloaded this Freedom program, which does but one thing: It shuts down the Internet for as long as you want it shut down. Run the program and no emails can get in.You’ll see no enthralling status updates (“I think the four-decker lasagna made me sick!”) on Facebook. That one basic program has the power to stop bits of information traveling through space at the speed of light. I don’t know how it works. It’s probably explained in some FAQ but I can’t look it up because — if you don’t get it by now, you’ll never get it — I SHUT OFF THE INTERNET!

So I was free to write unmolested by bits and bytes of information. And the first thing I wrote — and I mean the VERY FIRST THING — pertained to the 2008 presidential election. I had to name that blow-dried, Democratic Southerner who was ultimately disgraced for cheating on his sick wife. And you know what? I couldn’t remember his name! Something Edwards. Or was it Edward something? Scissorhands? Was it Edward Scissorhands?

This. This is what the Internet is supposed to be for. Information when you need it fast. But with my connection down, where could I turn? Try the TV on the chance that somebody might be discussing that very candidate four years later? Thumb through a stack of newspapers? Go out on the street and shout my question to the first stranger to come by, thus exposing myself as a moron? Again?

As it happened, I just skipped that bit of information. I could fill in later, right? Right, you are. And things were just fine for two whole paragraphs. But in the third paragraph, it became important that I know the average lifespan of a common house cat. Easy information if you happen to be one of the 10 billion people on my block alone connected to the Internet. But I wasn’t one of those, and so this entire project became an exercise in frustration. And because of that, you will never read my new novel, “Edward Scissorhands Killed My Cat!”

Which is not only a damn shame — a tragedy, really — it’s a lesson. All along, the Internet was my friend when I thought it was my enemy. There should be a word for that. Frenemy? Is that a real word?

I don’t know. But in 17 minutes, I’ll be smart again and I can let you know.

Mark LaFlamme is a Sun Journal staff writer. DO NOT bother him with email at mlaflamme@sunjournal.com. He’s writing a novel about Salt Lake City.

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