pro∙cras∙ti∙nate (prō krasˊtə nātˊ, prə-) vi., vt. -nat’ǀed, -nat’ing = to put off doing (something unpleasant or burdensome) until a future time; esp., to postone (such actions) habitually —pro∙crasˊti∙naˊtion n. –pro∙crasˊti∙naˊtor n.
How did we procrastinate before the Internet?
I honestly don’t remember. The Internet has been around for roughly twenty years, and has only had enough content and addictive social media to make it a distraction juggernaut for about ten. Procrastination has been around since Adam told Eve he’d help her pick fig leaves for her skirt after he took a nap.
In the early dial-up days, “getting on the Internet” was a process. There was a barrier to entry that made surfing the ‘net a designated activity with a distinct starting and ending point—you logged on, you surfed, you logged off. You couldn’t stay on all day, because sooner or later someone picked up the landline and booted you off.
I bought my first Ethernet cable my freshman year at Penn State. With it, you could have CONSTANT ACCESS to the Internet as long as it was plugged in. How quaint it seems now, but how exciting at the time. My Ethernet cable was blue, and about a hundred feet long. There was only one Ethernet jack in the dorm room, so you needed a lot of cord and tape if your desk was on the opposite side of the room.
I was a sophomore when Napster launched. Now there was something that blew my mind. You could download any song—any song!—instantly and listen to it as many times as you wanted, whenever you wanted. (Of course, whenever you wanted meant whenever you were within sight of your desktop computer. The idea that you could one day download songs to a phone was never considered because the phone was attached to the wall, same as the computer!)
It didn’t occur to me or anyone I knew that spending hours in the computer lab (where the connection was strong) downloading an artists’ work without paying for it was illegal or even morally wrong. We were too busy searching for the latest Dixie Chicks songs.
The Internet was exciting—you could talk to people on the other side of the world, discussing your favorite TV shows in chat rooms. Still, the Internet functioned as a specific tool, like a hammer. You got it out when you needed something, put it away when you were done. You didn’t walk around with that hammer in your pocket, pulling it out and looking for a nail to hit just because you were bored at the bus stop.
The Internet is no longer a hammer, it’s more like oxygen. Everywhere, all around us, all the time. No matter how short the time between check-ins, there’s always new “content.” That’s why people don’t talk about “surfing” the Internet anymore. It’s no longer an apt metaphor, because eventually you have to come out of the water. But you can’t go very long without oxygen.
So when you have a spare moment, you check. Just when you’re alone on the bus. Just to keep on top of things. Then you start checking when you’re with your family or friends, just a quick peek. Then it’s when you’re relaxing, or watching TV. Then it’s the last thing you do before you go to bed and the first thing you do when you wake up.
And when you’re supposed to be doing something else—something unpleasant and burdensome, perhaps—the siren song is always there.
So how did we procrastinate before the Internet?
I have no idea.