When did the internet get bent out of shape?
I've pondered this question for the last 6 months, wondering first why I didn't start pondering it much sooner. When did the internet start to go from being a joyous experience akin to those silly commercials we used to see on the television in the 90s. To one that often causes more harm than good for many?
Nowadays the internet harms and even kills hundreds of people per day, 1, 2. Just cyberbullying has been blamed for a 100% increase in self harm and attempted suicides.
I'd really like to pin most of the blame of social media, though that's maybe a bit too easy. A huge phenomenon that encouraged everyone to pour themselves out onto the internet to really no limit. Social media definitely did help remove the thought of using the internet for its original purpose but capitalism is the real guilty moniker which turned it into a place where you could fill the voids that exist in your life.
How do we answer the question of ethics when it comes to pouring ones feelings onto the internet, in particular to a public place where your posts can be read by others? Humans have for centuries fine-tuned the rules of engagement when communicating in person. The internet on the other hand, allows you to often get away clean with submitting all manner of content. In fact, there are millions of people who spend more time on the internet than they do having physical interactions with others.
Those aged 18 to 24 are around 20 times more likely to never speak to their neighbours, than those aged 55 and over, a survey carried out on behalf of Cancer Research UK found. Source
What the heck? By the age of 13 I knew the names of all 30 of my neighbours. How can teens and young adults living in a place as densely populated as Britain not speak to people face-to-face?
Rules and laws even fail to protect users and to this date there literally is no 'hate free' space on the web. The internet, which was created originally to share knowledge and improve products and services now only seems to get attention from people and the media when someone uses it to do something wrong. Positive improvements also always seem to be equally matched with some group of people trying to discredit any advancements in technology.
I use the internet to do my job. To teach, to learn and to write my articles and essays. I couldn't really imagine my life without it. When I think about how writers slaved over quill and candle in the dim light only to go blind before the age of forty, I consider myself lucky. I own one of the best and most portable touchscreen laptops (Dell XPS 15 7590) and I use it daily. It's an extension of my person. Could I live without it though? Absolutely. I've lived without having a computer for most of my life.
Up until 2016 I used social media myself. Mostly to keep in touch with friends and relatives that lived over oceans, and those of which were too lazy to consistently use some kind of free messaging app, which I greatly preferred. Through multiple counts of debauchery and douchebaggery from the owners and managers I kept on using it. Until one day I decided I couldn't use it any more. The ads, the drama, the injustice that it was rubbing in my face. Even worse was the fact that some of my friends were getting caught up in it. Fights in groups meant for selling items second-hand, arguments between exes and family members.
Why on earth had almost everyone I knew, even the boomers. Why were they all using the internet now to argue? What happened to sleeping on a dispute? What happened to agreeing to disagree?
Clearly humanity has forgotten all of those old stoic and wise principles of wasting not (including your words) and wanting not (including the need to soil the internet with your feelings).
I've long since realised that the old internet is dead. Murdered by the likes of
- Twitter – which is nothing more than a place to fling shit at others.
- Facebook – which exists to be a distraction and obstacle to meeting people you care about face-to-face.
- Instagram- that serves the sole purpose to fuel narcissism in its purest form.
- Snapchat – which is responsible for most people's present day FOMO.
- Reddit – the crown jewel of content hubs which is now nothing more than a marketplace for shilling and astroturfing.
Tumblr – a site originally made to share pictures, wound up being used to share various types of porn and then proving a total disconnection between themselves and their user-base, they committed suicide all on their own
Mastodon is not far behind and is probably already part of the problem.
And ho'! People said that the Dark Web was the scariest and most horrible thing to ever grace the net. The supposed untrackable 'internet' that people sell drugs and even assassination services on! Today no-one even uses it though. In fact, only 1.5% of all people using Tor, are actually browsing the dark web 98.5% of people just use it as a source of cheap anonymity.
So because we cannot go back to how the internet was, and to be fair – we absolutely should not. Who truly does want to go back to the sounds of dial-up modems and waiting 5 minutes for a photo to download? Certainly not me. Faced with the knowledge that the internet is killing and hurting people. What can we do though to make the internet fun again? Harmless again? Anti-virus websites would have you believe that you just need to install filters and apps to protect yourself from 'bad websites'. But I'm not talking about the software and code 'nasties' that scare no one except old mothers. People are stealing millions of dollars with no need to go as far as making malicious code and programs to do it. Social engineering is far easier and even cheaper.
Sadly this is not where I get to say stoicism is the answer to safely using the internet. Using the internet will always be an adventure, and an adventure by definition is something that can result in personal injury or gain.
The only real way to deal with any toxic thing is to limit your exposure to it. Negative affliction via contact with the internet isn't something anyone is immune to. There is no more a cure or vaccine for drama in the physical playground as there would be either for that which happens on the web.
Before the internet came along humans got on fine and arguably had much more healthier habits. People walked more, people played sports and most importantly of all, people met each other in person.
I'm not really one for speaking personally in my blogs and online writings, as I am so used to writing objectively for work. But personally? I fence. I've been doing fencing for 16 years. Unlike football which I played for 6 years and can be done with anyone that has two semi-functioning feet. Fencing isn't a hobby that everyone can do. In fact like judo, it's perhaps one of the only hobbies that can tell you on your first day, whether or not you are cut out to do it, least of all enjoy it. Just like my early years on the internet, I was dissatisfied with football and not even sure why I did it for as long as I did. When I found fencing, it became something even bigger and better than the internet, that I built my life around.
So when I'm not fencing I'm reading, which I still am able to do thankfully more than having to write. Also thankfully, in Denmark we have a cultural norm of 'fika' that has survived the 'real life' social onslaught brought on by the internet.
To close this post, I'll sparingly refer to another personal anecdote. Of the 40+ countries I've travelled to it is (in no order): Estonia, Latvia, USA (the Southern counties only), British Columbia, Chile, Columbia and Mongolia and Western Russia. These of which that are mostly unaffected by the internet and where I see people engaging in healthy hobbies and habits outside and away from a screen. Arguably some of them would even be doing better without the internet.
European countries like Sweden, Norway, Germany and god-forbid the UK are doomed when it comes to the internet. You could even somewhat put my own Denmark in there which is sort of surviving at current but could go either way any time soon.
In a stupid kind of way, I wish those loonies freaking out about 5G antennas killing people were actually right for once. The saddest thing is that exposure to radio waves has nothing to do with it. The internet has already killed a dozen people in the time it took me to write this blog...