The Internet has changed the way we live so drastically in such a brief span that it’s almost impossible to even remember how things used to be.
I’m of the opinion that it’s mainly been a shift for the better because of the transparency and ease of communication it fosters. Among the little things I appreciate:
- It’s much harder for businesses to rip people off and treat customers badly in a world with online reviews. Word will get around.
- You can find amazing people in every corner of the globe that you never would have met without the Internet.
- I love the new universal jokes that we all share, like Twitter preparing for the “apocalypse” after the crackpot preacher’s prediction.
- There’s so much potential for grassroots efforts and things bubbling up to the cultural surface and collective discovery.
For the most part, social media just accelerates what we as humans do already. It makes conversations spread more quickly and frees up more time for us to do more and find the most amazing places and things and people on the planet.
On the other hand…
It’s not all good. By no means is it all good. We’re all closer together, and that means we’re closer to the worst elements as well.
All too often people use the anonymity of the Internet to be crueler than they ever would be in real life, and the obliteration of privacy is something I’m not sure we’re all really prepared for. The Internet doesn’t always appeal to our best natures and can bring out the very worst in us.
What do you think – if you had to tally it all up, is the Internet making the world a better or worse place?
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Art: Selbstporträt – Claudio Castelucho
Angela Brown says
It is really a matter of defining better or worse. By their varying perspectives alone, the argument can go twenty ways east of Eden. What it has done is made it easier to see and experience the worse in us.
Dogs don't go online and type out a spam e-mail then hack into some poor unsuspecting person's account and send it to everyone in their address book (at least not the four-legged canine kind). Humans do this.
Anonymity provides a mask to say and do some of the ugliest things that could ever be thunk by another human being.
Naivete deludes some into posting mortifying things that could one day end up in the inbox of some stranger in Peru.
Facebooking your trip to Alaska could find you returning to a home emptied out by some person of selfish intentions but a faithful FB friend.
But with all of this, we are still humans, and despite all the silly, stupid, disrespectful cruel things we can say or do in the name of First Amendment rights, we are humans. The internet allows us to interact with each other in ways that were just considered science fiction fantasies. We converse, traverse, blog tour, blogfest and WriteOnCon our way into connecting with a ton of great people.
We lost our power during Irene and had no internet access. I really couldn't do much all day except lie on the couch and read a book. Yet it felt really good to get away from facebook, etc etc. And Irene forced us to get to know a few of our city neighbors and actually talk to people on the street (god forbid)…I like the internet, but I'm trying to limit it these days because it's too easy to get sucked into it and forget about the world outside.
Shell Flower says
The internet is evolution at its finest. This question brings to mind E.M. Forster's short story The Machine Stops . If you haven't read it, you really should and it's available free all over the internet. Score for the internet. LOL. It's kinda scary and a little sad as we leave a more oral and physical-based phase in our evolution. The internet is just a sign that we are that much closer to being pure thought, or light maybe. Still, those people who can't sit and chat with a friend over coffee without checking their social networking sites, email, etc. on their phone every five seconds annoy the hell out of me.
Life is what we make of it 🙂
The internet is part of our world and our life as it is, this moment.
Whether it makes us better or worse is entirely up to us, depends on our choice and our decisions.
One of the side effects of instant communication is that it feels like we are all living on our short term memory. If it happened 2 hours ago, it is old news. If it happened yesterday, it is ancient news. And if it happened last week….it is almost as if it didn't happen at all.
It is just something I'm noticing these days. Don't know what it means or where it is headed, but I've noticed it.
PJ Lincoln says
I think the positives do outweigh the negatives, Nathan, and I'm saying that as a person whose industry (newspapers) were essentially destroyed by the Internet.
Alana Roberts says
It's hard for me to say "better" or "worse" because I see the internet more as a social phenomenon than a technological one – the technology appeared when society "wanted" it.
Both the good and bad aspects of internet "community" that you listed, Nathan, are versions of things that people would have shared with one another if their lives were still constricted to a small village. We're just seeing them on a vastly larger scale. The jokes, the meetings, the reputations – as well as the lack of privacy and the opportunities for abuse. These things definitely take on their own character in an internet world, however, as you pointed out.
I think the world "got bigger" with the rise of big cities, big corporations, and big government – so communication had to get bigger as well, in order for us to keep being human. Had to. It's a balancing factor, a response that equalizes what was off-kilter.
I guess that brings me down on the side of good, as in natural, necessary, and inevitable. Not always good in a specific way, but then, that's people for you! It does bring up questions of where things are headed, though. As in, do we now have a global responsibility in a sense our ancestors never did? Or is that only an illusion because of how much information we have? But the bottom line seems to be, that human life has always provided and always will provide opportunities both to do good and to wrong one another.
Overall I think it's better. I spend a lot of time alone, and the Internet helps me to feel less lonely. Some people say the whole Internet/social media thing is phony——mostly because people can better control what other people see by choosing what they post——but I don't feel that way at all. I've met and worked with people I never would have had the chance to otherwise. But there's a dark side, too.
I limit my time on the internet and forums to no more than 60 minutes in a day, and I consider that excessive, in a life where I don't get much time to write until 8 PM. So I try to do only 30 minutes in a day. I don't do FaceBook at all. On weekends I don't touch the internet. I get out and do things, or write.
Better or worse? Oh, worse. Loads of convenience, sure, and some unforeseen benefits. But people have traded local community for web community, and that's not a good bargain. I see people out walking their dogs now who can't take their eyes off the screen. Sad. But their choice. Not mine, though.
Alleged Author says
*erased former comment because I lacked content*
Better or worse? No one can answer that question without bias. I live by the golden rule as it applies to the internet:
"Just because you CAN doesn't mean you SHOULD."
Can I say it's a wash? I love the Internet, really I do. I don't do anything online to make the world a worse place (intentionally that I know of).
But the internet brings out the worst in people. I live in a small town and I don't know if you've dealt much with the horror that is topix or the scum that trolls youtube videos, but there's a lot of darkness online. Topix is the scummiest, worst, bottom-feeding part of society. And the anonymity of it makes people free to be there worse selves. It disgusts me.
Then I see the things people said to Rebecca Black about Friday (awful, but so dang catchy I sing it sometimes).
I think the bad is something that most people try to control–the thoughts everybody has but doesn't voice. Now people are voicing them anonymously. Moms are bullying teenager girls on myspace, people are talking about the most slutty highschool girls on topix (really) and facebook rumors are perpetuating racism (happened in my small town).
We might like to to think the internet is all roses, sunshine and kumbaya. That's the way I try to use it. There's a lot of good that happens. I'm just not sure all the good outweighs all the negativity and harassment.
H.F. "Pete" Grimm III says
Embrace it or hate it, it's here to stay.
Reactionary people had issues when the car (mostly) replaced the horse. Amish still eschew most modern trappings (as do conservative Muslims). TV and radio are parts of the "Great Satan."
The internet is neither bad not good. It simply is. What we do with it, how we let it affect our lives can be bad or good, but let's not blame any deleterious effects of our choices on the medium. The good and bad lies squarely on our shoulders, as it always has, and will.
Jaron Lanier doesn't much like the direction we're going with the Internet. He's got some very interesting ideas in You Are Not a Gadget. I'll take the liberty of quoting a piece of Chapter One:
"Anonymous blog comments, vapid video pranks, and lightweight mashups may seem trivial and harmless, but as a whole, this widespread practice of fragmentary, impersonal communication has demeaned interpersonal interation."
I would say that it has allowed us to see just how bad people are and can be…People haven't changed, we are just able to see them for who they really are, anonymously of course…
frau wyler says