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On… The Internets

August 29, 2012

Fairly hefty topic today. So I sat on it a bit (a lot!) and wrote an outline by hand. Beginning, middle, end. Exposition! It’s like primary school is in session again. Here goes:

On the Internet.

I suppose after reading the title, most people will close this tab. How far will you go before you do the same? Let’s find out.

What is the Internet?

In the beginning was the ARPANET. Stuff happened. As with most experimental technologies, it started off as a largely academic, money-gobbling exercise. Then somebody figured out how to monetize it and someone else figures out how to advertise it and boom, it catches on. Spreads everywhere exponentially like a virus. Now most everyone uses it, including You! If you read the Wiki, there’s no point in my explanation. Still, accounting for the TL:DR factor: the Internet, in a(nother) word, is all about communication.

As with all theoretically neutral topics, there are pros and cons to the Internet. I’ll be alternating between the two. Kicking it off with a pro:

Outsource your Brain

Which is a Good Thing. Everything is a Google away. (Disclaimer: Google is, for all intents and purposes, my religion. I am biased.) You can look up anything, including music, pictures and the Answer. This availability of information is unprecedented; never in the history of the human race has it been so easy to learn without having to remember.

End of the Attention Span

However. It has been asked if the Internet is making us dumber. Not especially, in my opinion, but I do think it has changed the way I experience the world. Distractions abound, and it is so much easier to bend to my “ooh, a butterfly” impulses. Indeed, it was several minutes between the first and second sentences in this paragraph for no good reason at all. Fun fact: they also happened to be the first and second words. Several more seconds just elapsed before this sentence began, because I just had to Google this. Funnily enough, this leads to the next (good) point.

Immediacy

It certainly helps when you have to turn in a writing assignment due tomorrow. In the good old days, people did research in a library. Either that or pull facts out of their asses. Either way, some form of effort was required. With the Internet, it’s like God in action – ask, and ye shall receive…

Big Brother

…unless your ISP/country/Big Media company hates you knowing things and engage in all sorts of censorship acrobatics. Where there is power, you will always find people attempting to assert their control. Ergo SOPA and family. But the Internet isn’t powerful, you say? The Internet is knowledge, and knowledge is power. Demonstrare: scientia potentia est. And there’s another power of the Internet: the people.

Crowdsourcing

It’s a buzzword, yes, but it’s what the Internet has always been about. It’s the same kind of unpredictable force that stopped SOPA, deified Bieber, turned ragefaces mainstream, enabled the Facebook IPO, powered the Arab Spring and gave Amanda Palmer a million dollars (of which $30 was mine, yay). Speaking of web content, however:

Consumption > Creation

Somehow 9gag gets a billion pageviews a month. How many contributors does it have?

Look at these statistics:

  • Over 4 billion hours of video are watched each month on YouTube
  • 72 hours of video are uploaded to YouTube every minute

72 hours of video per minute equates to about 3.1 million hours of video uploaded a month. Sure, it sounds big, but this is equivalent to a mere 0.078% of the 4 billion hours watched. And of the uploaded videos,  how many are original content? And how many are 10 hour Nyancat loops? Sadly, we shall probably never know.

Open Movement

Nevertheless, back to content creation. Linux and open source powers a lot more than most people imagine. Android is a Linux variant, and Chrome is mostly based on an ongoing open-source project called Chromium. More than 92% of the fastest supercomputers run Linux. Perhaps counter-intuitively, open source is pretty damn secure, for reasons I won’t get into here.

Predators

Speaking of security though, this recently made me paranoid. Trouble is, the Internet is a terrifying place. I’m sure there is no need for me to elaborate. You’d have heard it all – suicide, murder, preying on children, horrific mutilation, any combination of the above and more. Except suicide + murder because those are mutually exclusive. The world can be pretty nasty; anonymity makes it nastier.

Cyborg Humanity

Going back to mutilation: body hacking is pretty intriguing. Living in the Ghost in the Shell universe would be pretty fucking awesome. But honestly, we don’t need to look very far to find cyborgs. Consider, for instance, the number of people you know who appear to be permanently melded to their smartphones. Maybe you’re one yourself.

Conclusion

There were a couple more things I wanted to cover, mainly about the importance of protesting the sons of SOPA and a little about this “net neutrality” thing. But that’s gonna need quite a bit more research, seeing as I’m pretty clueless about those topics. Another time.

So, after making it through all this crap without closing the tab, you ought to ask: Why? Why persist if all the good points have their painful downsides? The Internet can be pretty detrimental, but some 2.2 billion people use the Internet through all the darkness. My theory is that the Internet scratches the very human itch for gratification. No, you really don’t need it, but it makes people happy. Or less bored. At the same time, I believe the Internet is a manifestation of the collective unconscious. Dig deep enough, and you might just find the pulse of the world.

Not a lot of people realize this, but we are living the future, and the future is connection.

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