The DISRUPTOR Series: Technology is the wave in which society floats upon. With every ground breaking technological innovation, a slew of lifestyle changes emerge. From the clock to the smartphone, technology has never failed to bring this world to the next level. Over the next month I will examine technology’s effect on several industries and weigh the pros and cons of technological innovation.
It’s been a while since I’ve logged an entry into The Disruptor series. Work has robbed me of precious ranting time, but I’m back with something a little different. The topic of conversation today is the web. The Internet is the great connector, sprouting strands that extend globally wrapping individuals in one unified web. Men and women have leveraged this power in unique ways revealing some beautiful and hideous shades of humanity. Anything that can be replicated digitally has been or is in the process of being so. Meet digitally, speak digitally, sex digitally, more connection through disconnection. Our reach is greatly extended but what of our communication skills? Are they better, worse, or just different? As we trade in the physical for the digital, eye contact for pixel playback, we must reflect on what we’re giving up for convenience. Is this new world all that different or are we all just paying closer attention?
I was born in October of 91′, great year if I may say so myself. It is also the beginning of the last wave of kids who grew up in the old world. The old world is full of marvelous things like coloring books and board games. The old world is full of kids riding around on their bicycle for fun, not because they live in Brooklyn. Hell Brooklyn was still Brooklyn when I was coming up. I remember going out because that’s where everyone was. No one liked being a home body, you had to fight for that extra hour in the sun. You didn’t want to miss out. Miss out on the jokes, the fights, the girls and boys. You couldn’t replicate the experience of growing up inside. How were you supposed to learn the ropes from inside your chamber of sports memorabilia and over sexed pop star posters? You weren’t, but then you did.
I remember the shift. The difference between calling your friends at the window to sending them instant messages on AIM. The transition from playing basketball across the street to playing NBA Live with your friends on Xbox Live. Quick digression, remember NBA LIVE?! I mean wow! How did EA Sports let that franchise dive off the deep end? Back on topic. Meetings changed too, now conference rooms came with flat screens with cameras attached. There was this weird app called Skype? Everything got weirder. Not as weird as they are now of course, Twitter didn’t become a thing until my senior year of high school and kids still had “dumb phones” so there was none of that sexting funny business either. The internet became a society of its own, a heightened version of the one we lived in in the physical realm. Everything was bigger and more dramatic on the internet. It became like one large game of telephone. Gossip was more intricate and layered, details were exaggerated, so exaggerated that “pics or it didn’t happen” became a slogan. The internet had to compensate for what it lacked then and still does now, tangibility.
THE GOOD: Unity through the Spectrum
The internet’s lack of physicality isn’t off-putting to many. Love and happiness are propelled by the connectedness we share. We have never been more connected than we are today. The Internet’s first real play was putting everyone within a finger’s tap of one another. Oceans and deserts separate us no more, everyone can be reached. There are over 1,000,000,000 active members on Facebook alone. Every day friendships are formed, lovers unite, and feuds erupt over the spectrum. Men and women tired of the run around in the dating world turn to E Harmony and Match.com. Complex algorithms are now tasked with determining whether people are compatible lovers. Gamers flock to NeoGaf, IGN, and the newly established Polygon. Individuals with a taste for social causes and political chatter head to UpWorthy and…The Huffington Post? From Facebook to E Harmony from Instagram to FlickR, people are connecting and sharing themselves, their digital selves with the rest of the world. These platforms allow you to shape the world’s perception of you like never before. Unlike in the real world, if you want everyone to think you’re the best dressed person in the world, simply only upload photos of you looking your best. If you want people to think you’re a god loving saint, quote bible scripture on Facebook and upload pictures of you in your prettiest Sunday service attire. You can be, whoever you want to be. Deception is the most widely used strategy on the web, so well used in fact MTV has a whole show dedicated to people getting hoodwinked called CatFish.
The internet has provided outcasts a venue for unification. It is a safe haven for many, a portal to a new identity, a clean slate. There’s a clique for everyone… seriously everyone. While researching forums for this post I stumbled across one geared towards uniting ice chewers. I am not making this up. If you’re into some pretty weird stuff, chances are there are 1,000 other people into it too, some even dedicated enough to make a web page where you can all discuss it together. You thought the Twilight craze couldn’t go further, well you thought wrong. VampireWebsite will teach you all you need to know about the pesky night-walkers. Hell those chaps will even help you discover if you’re a vampire yourself! Good lot those Vampires I tell ya. This is just the tip of the iceberg, things get REAL WEIRD REAL FAST. Ladies, I know you like to be discreet about your sexy, but Cute Dead Guys? Really? These are just umbrella networks. There are more specific websites and forums for groups inside these wide-ranging webs. It’s truly overwhelming. Surfing the web is the biggest time sink in the world, rivaled only by Netflix television binge watching. These connections seem superficial, but sometimes grow deep and wildly beneficial. I know people who have had entire films funded by people who met in filmmaking message boards like REDUser.
The filmmaking arena in particular has been greatly improved due to the internet. Going to film school is no longer an essential aspect of becoming a successful filmmaker. Not only are the tools cheaper, but there are a slew of filmmakers willing to teach you the ropes online for free. From Philip Bloom to Vincent LaForet to the fine folks at the aptly named NoFilmSchool, the secrets behind Hollywoods trickery have been exposed for all to see. Education opportunities in general have increased due to our enhanced connectivity. Teachers, doctors, and artists have jacked in and begun sharing their knowledge across the web. From WebMD, TED, and Code Year to Vimeo, FStoppers, and DeviantArt, there are countless avenues geared to connecting likeminded individuals of all levels. You can share your work, have it critiqued and critique the works of others, and even find new clients to sell your work to on the web.
THE UGLY: Degradation of Communication
But the web has a viscously stained underbelly. Society and its dirty habits have seeped into the cracks of the network, poisoning the internet like a virus. The Internet has become a lawless playground for the shadows of the human interactivity to run rampant. With anonymity has come cowardice and hatred. Venom spewing avatars piloted by living breathing men and women who use the faceless structure of the web to terrorize other individuals. We have built new class systems for the web and there are a myriad of different hierarchies across a vast collection of social networks. Free speech, more than ever, has become a safety net for cynicism, sexism, and ignorance. As more of our conversations begin and end on the web, society’s ability to coherently communicate is at risk. The quality of conversation is being degraded by Internet culture’s inability to attack ideas and not the person delivering them. The ease of communication and the instantaneous nature of it all undermines the logical impulse to think before you hit send. It takes all of 30 seconds to write a terribly insulting tweet to your mortal enemy and ruin their mood. Is this unhappiness systemic of something that exists outside of the system of the internet? Is the harsh reality of Two Americas crippling our web relationships? Bill Maher tackled this beautifully on a recent episode of Real Time with Bill Maher.
I struggle to determine if the actions of the people are worse than they were or if it’s just a case of the broadcasting technology being stronger. Take bullying and sexual shaming for example. There have been an influx of stories about students turning to Facebook and Twitter to harass one another. This ranges from as young as middle school all the way to University. Students in the UK’s Loughborough University created a Facebook page rating their sexual partners on a scale of 1-10. People Fascinating stuff, but surely this isn’t the first time people have gotten together and gossiped about this kind of campus activity. The issue is there is no reprieve from it. The internet is a persistent world and we’re constantly jacked in. Cellphones buzz with notifications, growler notifications ease into view on your desktop. You cannot escape the web. The break tormented kids received by leaving school and coming home never happens. The bullies have so many avenues to reach their victims. There is this belief that we shouldn’t police the web. We shouldn’t demand a real name be attached to avatars. We would kill what makes the internet the internet. I don’t believe the internet is defined by anonymity, I don’t think the internet will become a worse place for the lack of it. The internet has to stop becoming a place for people to hide from accountability. If you have something reckless and hurtful to say you shouldn’t be granted to benefit of anonymity. Will this solve everything? No, but it’s a first step.
People, young and old, have become more cynical than ever. As the established systems begin to rot and institutions we once believed in become more untrustworthy, optimism and hope are decaying. I mentioned earlier the Two Americas, something that is being written and talked about in-depth now post OWS. The gap between the haves and the have-nots is larger than it’s ever been. Our government is in bed with corporations. Pain profiteers, because it’s hard to sell a happy person more happiness. Our government spies on us, burns our freedoms, belittles our women, and is as trigger happy as Dirty Harry. We are stuck. We are traveling along the path to the future with no clear narrative. We are lost. The people in positions of power do nothing, men and women with influence use their status to promote their status. How often do you truly feel inspired by a successful entertainer or athlete? Why the hell do we turn to entertainers and athletes for inspiration anyway? We need to glorify scientists and inventors. Elon Musk is the real rockstar not Kanye West. I love Kanye, but his designer shirts won’t improve the quality of living for a single soul. It certainly won’t create jobs here or have a lasting impact on the people. You know what will? The Hyperloop. The internet and its many extensions are mirrors of the real world we live in. It is both beautiful and terrifying and our actions on it are proving to have proper consequences once we step away from it. Curing the web woes can only be solved by curing society’s. We have to raise a more culturally aware and intellectually sound people. We cannot abandon hope in some strange attempt to build toughness. We need to put our hopes in ourselves and the brilliant men and women this country has created and still can.