I’ll be the first person to say I suffer from Facebook envy and Twitter confusion. I see everyone’s photos of their trips and their parties, their excellent events and adventures and I can’t help feeling just a little pathetic in comparison. And with Twitter, it is easy to get overwhelmed by the information that ticks through at an impressive rate of 190 million tweets per day. It is impossible to read them all (and to be honest most aren’t worth reading) but there’s something special about the swell of so much information.
But I love the internet. Like the XKCD cartoon, I love many of its crazy folks and beautiful blogs and exciting websites. The internet gives us things like We Feel Fine, an idea that wouldn’t translate anywhere else. There are TED talks, lectures that can change your life and make me excited about all the great things going on out there. It often feels like there isn’t much good news, but an excellent Cracked article pointed out something important to me the other day. The media will always go by the manifesto of ‘if it bleeds it leads’, because Malema will sell more newspapers than a story of an orphanage having a really great adoption rate. Because of this, we often forget what the world is about, that it is far more nuance than we give it credit for. While we all focus on the terrible dolphin slaughter in Japan, we don’t notice that the two biggest chicken suppliers in the States have switched over to the humane method of Controlled Atmosphere Killing, saving billions of chickens an agonizing and slow death. The beautiful thing about the internet is that it allows all the stories to proliferate, good and bad.
As part of my job I meet a lot of book reps, and I see a great number of books. There is a growing trend in business and psychology books that suggests that the Internet is making everybody dumber because of the rapid-fire nature of the Net. That Twitter’s homeopathic novels (tweets) are causing us to demand information in bite-sized chunks. Facebook is apparently isolating us from each other because somehow being more connected is bad?
I think the problem is that the Internet is being blamed for sheer human laziness. The same way that everyone thought television would destroy human progress and intelligence, books are coming out warning that the nature of the Internet is lowering our capacity for understanding. This research has obviously not been conducted on a significantly long term basis, which means that a lot of the conclusions are hypothetical for now. Also, what’s wrong with wanting concise information? Why fight through twaddle just to get to the clear facts? If I wanted unnecessary padding, I would read Lord of the Rings. And for all its length, Lord of the Rings is vastly inferior to a great many important books a fifth of its length with a hundred times the message and passion. (Catcher in the Rye, Fight Club, To Kill a Mockingbird, Beloved).
The Internet isn’t making us stupid. With Wikipedia making information available on a much wider basis compared to the pay-to-view expensive encyclopedias, news feeds from hundreds of reputable news stations and the simple joy of social networking, we are enjoying unparalleled access to information unlike anything before this. Maybe this is what it felt like when the Gutenberg Press freed books from their handwritten cages. This is why having Internet access is now a human right, and should be available to everyone. Information should be freely available. It isn’t yet, but I dream of a world where it is. What matters here is the ability to sift through and understand, a skill that is not taught by the internet, but by parents and schools. Of course, its much easier to blame the Internet and video games and television for bad children instead of shitty, uninterested parents.
Look at the Columbine shootings. The kids were neo-Nazis, were able to get their hands on weapons and were openly violent and aggressive. But instead of asking where their parents and teachers were in the run-up and how it got so bad, it was just so much easier to blame Quake. Somehow its always bad children, not bad parents. Bad chat rooms, not bad legislation. Likewise there are all these hysterical stories about mad boyfriends killing their girlfriends because they saw her in a photo with another guy on Facebook. Somehow, its Facebook’s fault, not the psycopath boyfriend who was just looking for a reason to kill the ungrateful crackwhore. (As his logic surely must work.)
The internet is full of crazy people. It has the b/tards and LulzSec and religious fundamentalists and animal haters. But these people have always existed. The Internet is just the mirror of society, but it enjoys something closer to true democracy than other countries. Blaming the Internet for giving bad people a place to exist is akin to cursing the Earth for having landmasses for us to live on. And unlike meatspace (real life), if you don’t like what you see, you can close the tab and never go there again. Its unlike schools, where atheist kids might be uncomfortable, or kids might not be able to get away from sexual predators posing as teachers. Or like being dragged to those awful family dinners where people whom one is unfortunate enough to share blood with let loose racial epithets that would make Huckleberry Finn blush. Unlike the Internet, annoying family members can’t be alt-tabbed away.
I love the Internet. It gives me a space to write and be heard, something print media does not afford to everybody. I can gather information at a rapid pace without having to go to a library. Please don’t get me wrong: I love books. They’re my trade and my lifeblood and have been since I was very little. But the Internet is like having a library at my fingertips, and I don’t have to deal with any bitchy librarians. (Wow, the Rhodes librarians were a bunch of miserable fucks.) The Internet is always the first to be blamed for anything, but it’s a tool. It can be used to change the world, or just post a blog or even share videos of kittens falling asleep just to cheer people up. It provides welcoming communities, such as Bodies Under Siege and Post Secret so that no one has to feel alone.
Everyone will take what they want from the Net, but to blame it for making us stupid is to deflect responsibility. I want the whole world to have the Intarwabs, to join this giant heartbeat of the planet. It’s like the Discovery Channel song says, ‘I love the whole world, its such a brilliant place’. The Internet, in my opinion, is the greatest thing to have been invented because of its mind-boggling potential and almost sentient presence in our lives.
Here are some excellent quotes about the Internet, more available here at Quotegarden.com.
The Internet is clearly about more than sports scores and email now. It’s a place where we can conduct our democracy and get very large amounts of data to very large numbers of people. ~Frank James
The Internet is based on a layered, end-to-end model that allows people at each level of the network to innovate free of any central control. By placing intelligence at the edges rather than control in the middle of the network, the Internet has created a platform for innovation. ~Vinton Cerf
I have an almost religious zeal – not for technology per se, but for the Internet which is for me, the nervous system of mother Earth, which I see as a living creature, linking up. ~Dan Millman
The Internet is becoming the town square for the global village of tomorrow. ~Bill Gates
The Internet is a giant international network of intelligent, informed computer enthusiasts, by which I mean, “people without lives.” We don’t care. We have each other. ~Dave Barry
Using Twitter like a dandelion uses the wind… Spreading messages, not exactly knowing where they might go, some taking roots and blossoming, some making a adventurous journey through the air but not falling on fertile ground. So what? A process of beauty and joy. ~Detlef Cordes, detlefcordes.org