The Internet can see. It can talk. It can hear. It can sing.
But the Internet can’t smell.
Depending on your point of view, the Internet has either unmercifully ruined or vastly improved the way we see photographs, movies and world news. In the old days, we needed to use paper, chemicals and a one-hour wait to share our photographic visions. We drove to a theater, stood in line and sat in a dark room with dozens of strangers to see “Dances With Wolves.” World news was something you saw in newspapers, magazines or on the television.
Now it waits for us all piled up in the computer.
The same can be said for music, books, art work, sports, even chatting with your cousin in Ireland. The Internet makes it easier, faster, more comfortable and less expensive than “the real thing.” Let’s face it, in 2016 the Internet is the real thing.
But when they made the Internet they forgot to include a nose.
It doesn’t matter if you are the Ansel Adams of “foodography,” sure that cinnamon roll looks tasty but no one knows how good it smells coming out of the oven.
This thought occurred to me as I rode my bike 50 miles through the misty north woods above Grand Marais last weekend in a dirt road race called Le Grand Du Nord. The course swept around empty lakes, over roaring streams and down rollercoaster hills. Certain parts were beautiful to the eye, of course, but that deep, mellow and unbelievably fresh forest smell hit me the hardest. A light whiff of green spring pine mixed with a fog bank of cold, clean Lake Superior air. It’s unavailable on your iPhone.
Of course, bad smells can’t be recorded either.
Last week, I toured the crumbling remains of an long-closed neighborhood pharmacy in Superior, Wisconsin. I wrote about the pharmacy demolition plans for a Duluth news website. Bottles of pills, powders and poisonous chemicals were piled in a narrow hall behind a counter that served the sick for close to a century. The windows and doors had been locked for more than 10 years. Dust covered the empty shelves and cluttered floors. The place reeked with the harsh, bitter smell of Mercurochrome.
“I broke a bottle of it when I was cleaning up in here,” said my tour guide. “I had to throw out my clothes.”
I wanted to be able to take a picture of that smell, to show readers the decay inside that old pharmacy. Owners discarded the classic soda fountain long ago, tiles hung from the ceiling, random merchandise covered the floor, the place where generations of families went to feel better was a crumbling mess. It all made me feel sad.
Of course, the Internet can’t feel either.