Last week I learned that Spider-Man is going to die. Going to. Before it’s happened. I have no feelings about this but, by god, some people do. I learned that people in Greece were braced for another day of demonstrations in downtown Athens, and discovered, before it had been reported by a ‘proper’ news provider, that the smell of tear gas could be detected lingering in the air. I learned that some of us have the bizarre capacity to unleash hitherto unexpected levels of anger on to their keyboards when two dogs tragically die in a hot car, and yet barely blink an eye at reports of unimaginable pain and terror and suffering being experienced by and inflicted on fellow humans in not so far off lands. I learned that people don’t like Gordon Ramsay very much. Last week, I looked at the Internet.
Amazing to consider that even 10 years ago many of us were still unfamiliar with this wonderful and weird and informative and scary and shocking and contradictory place. It is an amazing evolving tool with the capacity to change the world, a charge that it has in recent months began to fulfil in ways that could never have been expected. It’s also tits and arse. And cats. Its great entertainment and funny videos and recipes and reviews and essays and boobs are all vital threads running through its rich fabric. It is an encyclopaedia and museum and lecture and dumping ground. It is absolutely impossible to live without and yet something I often question how I can continue to function with.
Why? Because the internet is also a think first, worry later world that often indulges a reactionary culture of sneering and one-upmanship. It’s a world where mob justice can rule and where numbers that would be terrifying in the real world can be rallied into a fervent rage, baying for blood, sometimes metaphorical, sometimes actual, over things like a journalist not properly attributing quotes or a man who’s good at football having an affair or a columnist writing something unpalatable, despicable even, but probably not deserving of death threats or having their address posted for all to see and do with as they please. It’s a world where a magazine with 380,000 social networking followers can post that ‘research’ says that having a cup of green tea in the morning will help you feel better, without linking to or even citing the source of said research, which some people might consider an abuse of a tacit position of responsibility. It’s a world where enough people read the Daily Mail with the intention of being outraged to actually boost the paper’s traffic. And one that can lead to a man being hauled in front of a court for making a joke that other people don’t get.
“Are you seriously? Are you going as Disney princesses? You wanker, we’re not five. I’ve got to put this on Facebook,” shouted a woman at her astonished friend on a train I was on the other day, out of the blue and many decibels higher than their until-then muted conversation. “I mean, it’s just not very expansive, is it? You can’t really go off list with it. I like going off list.” Aside from asking the obvious question of what the hell this even means, the point is that she did put it on social networking. There and then, on the train, forcing her devastatingly embarrassed friend to slide sheepishly down her chair, shell-shocked at what had just happened, at how in a single moment she had been so ruthlessly and comprehensively humiliated in both her real and virtual worlds.
This kind of blurring of the virtual and reality is the crux of my problem with how many people use and see the internet today. The often quietly held but nevertheless palpable smugness contained in the notion that more friends or followers on a social network somehow translates to, if not necessarily being more popular, being somehow better in the real world. Taking pictures of anything and everything without discretion with the sole purpose of posting them online to have moment after moment validated by an online entity virtually anonymous to that person in their actual life, as if somehow those moments don’t hold any value otherwise.
I am both astounded by the Internet and totally overwhelmed by its weight and that of the information we’re expected to absorb. I’m curious to know where it will lead. We’ve evolved into a species that is able to both shop and shit at the same time and that should be, I think, a source of both amazement and concern. Which way will the internet take us. How far will it go? Is this evolution at all, or are we regressing, learning to not need to know or do anything for ourselves at all?
Where are you meeting her?
Dunno, but I’ll find out from my phone when I get there.
You still use a phone? Luddite. I’ve got had of those communication chips sewn into my brain.
Oh great, can you search-engine how to tie a shoelace for me?
Why would you need to do that? You’ve got electronic shoes.
Is this how it’s going to be?
Thank you for reading. I obviously don’t have the answers but I would like to make a few suggestions about how it might be possible to survive this brave new world with at least your dignity, respect for others and humanity in tact. A kind of internet manifesto, I guess.
Keep your head out the clouds even if everything you own will soon be suspended in one. Don’t let ‘like’ become shorthand for ‘I can’t be arsed to think’. Consider not commenting unless you truly understand and have an argument propped up with some solid facts to bring to the debate. Take a step back, read that article to the end before reacting – maybe even get a bit objective and read a couple of different views on the subject. Ask yourself if what you’re doing is constructive, if will add anything to this incredible resource. If you have to shop and shit at the same time, be mindful of the fact that it’s only acceptable on the toilet with an internet-connected phone – Sainsbury’s will take a dim view of anyone who attempts this in one of its stores. Remember it’s always OK to slag off Gordon Ramsay. And please think twice before sharing pictures of what you’ve put on your fucking toast.