We’ve been reminded a few times over the past week why the internet is terrible. There have been assaults on privacy, viral ice bucket videos posted by every white person trying to ignore Ferguson, videos spreading of journalists being beheaded. The sheer amount of ignorance on display has been staggering, overwhelming, with good ideas as rare as finding a needle in a haystack. Harder still, when you add in all the ads and the constant deluge of distractions produced by auto-play videos and promoted content, mutating itself into things like native advertising to steal our eyes and clicks away from the little quality information that is left, lingering on the pages of publications that are quickly selling their integrity and tough journalism for tl;dr virality.
What is to blame? Is it the introduction of moneyed interests into our information, resulting in a slow drying up of all thought that is good and reasonable and putting cat videos and quizzes under our noses? Partially. Maybe. But writers have to get paid, websites aren’t free, advertising sometimes guides us to the things we want…so why not just live with it, let ourselves get lost and waste away in the void of consumerism and the ability to fill our seemingly unquenchable thirst for the entertaining, or for comforting falsehoods.
But hark! There is hope, according to Facebook and Google, who are both pioneering new algorithms that purport to fight against the “buzzfeedification” of our news. We must then consider the dubious fact that Facebook and Google will have control over everything you see—but on the flip side of that, they basically do already, and if they’re willing to admit they’re doing a shitty job so far, I’ll complain a little less. They are both still slightly accountable to their user bases, even if neither of them seem to really act like it. So, where does information go from here? Information overload—*shoutout to Swarthmore prof Barry Schwartz’s the Paradox Of Choice*—is real. We struggle when presented with too much. Somewhere in the pipeline, there has to be a filter. But what?
Here’s what’s really bleak: the honest truth behind all this is that WE are the only filter we have. To consume good information, we must produce it. And we must choose to consume it. The internet sucks, but it’s merely a reflection of our collective suckage. We created it. We have gone on a long, long time, hiding our shit—our ignorance, our meanness, and when we finally put it out where everyone can see, do we just leave it out there and complain about the smell? We have to clean it up. Or wait for land dolphins or cockroaches (Read Terra Formars, you’ll die) to take over the earth and have them clean it up for us (but we won’t last that long anyway).
Granted, I love complaining as much as anyone else. (If you had the misfortune to participate in a track/cross country team with me, sorry). so I understand we’re all a bit upset about this. Of course, though—it’s just the millennials, right? The collective moral decay of society that we seem to talk about so much— because we all desire the days of whitewashed mythology that existed in the 1920s or some other bygone age, like anything was ever really as great as it appeared, skin deep. Yeah. That’s more evidence that we really, really suck.
One thing that is incredibly revealing about the ugliness and ignorance of looking at humanity in the mirror produced by the internet is that the species, like the individual, has been traumatized for a long time. The modern ‘chicken or the egg’ question reveals this—“Do you hate Facebook (insert ‘the internet’ here as well), or do you just hate your life?” The small emotions build into movements, to wars within the collective self, just as we often possess unseen voids of ugliness, insecurity, or evil, so too does humanity. The only way to heal, to move forward, is to examine every painful inch, and to convince ourselves to love all of those inches—or at bare minimum begin to understand and accept them. This is our project—doing something with all this mess. This isn’t a plea so much as a call to action (which feels ridiculous, but I’m pretty sure that’s what this is), a call for us to bring forth the curiosity that brought out ancestors down from the treetops. We must take something from the vast oceans of information we’re creating—if only because to say they’re useless to us is much, much more deeply terrifying.
Do we hate the internet, or do we just hate ourselves?
Also, I didn’t put links in this post because I’m trying to be ironic…or I’m just lazy. WHICH IS IT…TELL ME.