I read this and instantly realized it was related to a story I heard about where Google is going to give people the Internet through balloons, a story I haven't bothered to look up to read yet, and now I won't have time to because this cartoon irritated me.
One could take it as a commentary on how the future sneaks up on people -- drifting in silently on a balloon to bring the entire world of knowledge to a guy trapped in the middle of nowhere with just one book-- a powerful metaphor, perhaps, for the elevation that expanding one's ability to learn and communicate would have over such a hermit...
..except for that Augh!, which implies that this is perhaps a bad thing, and I don't get it: why is the Internet a bad thing? There is not a single thing that the Internet does that cannot be recreated in the real world. I get it if people want to pretend that all 'screens' (ARRGH I HATE THAT A SCREEN IS JUST A PAGE IF THE SCREEN YOU ARE READING IS A PAGE FROM A BOOK SO TURNING OFF 'SCREENS' IS THE SAME THING AS TURNING OFF THE BOOKS, IT'S THE CONTENT NOT THE DELIVERY SYSTEM) are bad -- I get that people want to pretend that, anyway, or maybe believe it, but they're not: as I pointed out here, kids today can still do all the crummy things we did as kids only now they have access to a whole world of awesomeness made possible by handheld computers that can almost literally let you have a wand fight using real magic, almost... almost. That's so far way better than fake swordfights when we were kids that I don't even know how to quantify it.
But this cartoon?
This is just saying that the arrival of the Internet -- and in particular the arrival of it via a company which has as one of its stated goals the incorporation of every book ever written into the Internet -- the arrival of the Internet is a bad thing. Is there any other way to take this comic? Any other way to interpret this solitary reader's startling fear at being told the Internet exists, than that the Internet is bad?
THAT is an alarming take from the guy who writes XKCD, who has always seemed to me to be something of a pretty smart guy. I thought it was bad enough when Neil de Grasse Tyson, science-ruiner-in-chief, tried to crap all over Felix's Leap From Space, but now a guy with a physics degree who used to design robots for NASA is championing books over the Internet, and literally doing that over the Internet.
I get the impulse to poke fun at one's background: I tell lawyer jokes. But I wonder if XKCD author is aware that his cartoon can only be read by me because of the Internet, and that absent the Internet, which is now available on balloons to carry his comics to other people, I would never have read his comic. Absent the Internet, is a stick-figure comic strip about obscure physics topics going to make it into a book or newspaper? NOT HARDLY.
I mean, this isn't even a smart joke or a funny joke or a wry commentary or a pun. It's just... nihilism. It's just saying stuff for the sake of saying stuff, and in doing so it not only manages to not be funny, but it manages to detract from the science and intelligence that many other XKCD strips aim to bring to people. The other day, he had a strip showing the heights of ice shelves in the last ice age compared to the heights of cities and has done countless other strips that make scientific topics fun and interesting and now, apparently to fill space, he for some reason decides to make a point about... what?
About how bad it is that the Internet could come to rural places? Rural folk in New Zealand shouldn't have access to the same wealth of information we do?
About how books are great and the Internet is bad? You know what was a book back before there was an Internet? "101 Uses For A Dead Cat." Know what is an Internet site now? "Pro Publica", a site that today has stories on how Bank of America deliberately ripped off foreclosed homeowners, and an in-depth review of the Patriot Act provisions people have forgotten about. BY ALL MEANS, LET'S READ BOOKS NOT THE INTERNET.
This cartoon is JUST STUPID. I don't think I've ever gone from zero to incensed quite so quickly. Seriously. This cartoon is the pits, and it's made all the more stupid by the fact that it is written by someone who should know better.
AND all the more stupid-er by the fact that the little "hidden text" joke is a joke about how it would be funny to rip off companies like Verizon that offer 14-day free trials of internet hot spots. YES, THAT IS FUNNY AS FUNNY AS IT WILL BE WHEN THE BIG CABLE COMPANIES LIKE COMCAST CONTROL ALL OF THE INTERNET IN AMERICA AND NET NEUTRALITY IS A THING OF THE PAST AND SMALL WEBSITES LIKE PEOPLE THAT USE IT FOR WEBCOMICS CAN'T GET SEEN BY ANYONE.