I am definitely part of the Internet generation. My father got us online fairly early on during the days when internet pages were mostly text and what graphics existed took ages to load up. I still have vague memories of using the search engines which seemed to be the meat of the early internet, where I tried to find information that I could not find elsewhere in my small home town and I also vividly recall stepping away from the computer to fetch myself a drink while I waited for a webpage to fully load. But the internet back then was not only a useful tool, a hidden trove of information, it was also a safe haven for social outcasts and recluses, such as myself.
Over the years that have passed since those early years, when I got my first computer and stayed up late into the night slowly loading up information laden pages, as I lurked on newsgroups and in chat rooms speaking with other nerds from all corners of the world, the internet has gone through several transformations. It has become faster, flashier and even more informative than it used to be. Pretty much everything can be found online now, be it photos, articles, movies, music or games, the internet has become fully ingrained in our society. I am not sure if you’re completely lost if you don’t have internet access, but you sure are missing out on something. As an example, I have not set foot in a physical bank for years and the last time I had an errand to one it was to have the keypad I use to log onto my internet banking account changed for a new one. Without the internet, I would not be able to pay my bills or check my savings account.
But the internet has grown even further beyond that. With the advent of the affordable smartphones and fast wireless available most everywhere all major corporations, many stores and state institutions have some sort of App or page where everyone with a smartphone can access special pages and offers. You can send in your tax forms on your smart phone, you can check in on your flight on your smart phone and you can even keep an eye on your house via your alarm company’s special App. With Twitter and Instagram enabled, we can share every detail of our life to the world as it happens. It won’t be long until we’ve reached the point that we become so reliant on the Internet that it also makes our society vulnerable.
Yet despite how some seem nearly attached to the internet through their smartphones and laptops, there is still this level of distrust associated with it. On dating sites we are weary of the other partner; we question their honesty and whether their profile photos might be photo-shopped. We are afraid of being scammed. If we have children who play online games or communicate with their friends online we are wary of exactly who they associate with. And tied to this I have noticed that there is shallowness to the interactions between people online, like how it’s okay to tweak the truth and embellish your life on all the common social media sites like Facebook and the late MySpace. We feel we can be shallow, because those we hang out on there are either people we already know and interact with in real life on a regular basis, or it’s just people we have tied to our account for some vague reason or other. Maybe we met them once on a trip, maybe we share a place of employment or maybe they’re just a friend of a friend.
But hey, what happens on those social media sites aren’t important, are they?
I read an article about a woman in the US who was undertaking a massive trip to visit all of her 700 Facebook friends, many of which she had yet to even speak to in real life. At the same time the article provided details on a Swedish guy who did something similar with his own friends list, thousands of people long. Only…After he’d gathered them all together in specific locations, he abandoned his Facebook and tried to sell his account as it was too much trouble to keep all those connections alive.
So, the internet today is this mass of information and tools that we are becoming increasingly reliant on, while at the same time, our personal connections with real people online are becoming shallower, at least that is the impression that I get. I guess I am an odd person either way, because for me the internet is not just important in how it provides the tools for my day to day business, like banking and managing my cell phone plan, among other things. It is also important in that all of my current friends were found and cultivated online.
From those early days in the mid-90s, when I first found the chat rooms and internet newsgroups I began to subscribe too, I slowly got to know a certain group of people. Most of them were recluses and introverts like myself and guess what; most of those people are still firmly in my life. I might not have been able to meet every single one of them and I have not spoken to many of them in real life in years, but they’re there. We keep in touch because we value each other for our inner selves, our souls, not for how happy or successful we might appear on any social media outlet we still hang out on.
For introverts the internet is still incredibly vital in helping us find kindred spirits, those who are like us, think like us and understand why we are using the internet to begin with. Because it provides that vital filter, it allow us to take our time and think about what we want to say, unlike the fast paced real world when information must be here now, now, now, where everything is noise and movement.
Interestingly enough that is another effect of the faster information flow on the internet, that is has made mankind more impatient for information, more information hungry. It’s why we have vigils outside hospitals waiting for royal babies to be announced, why Twitter floods with hashtags of certain events. It’s all to keep up informed, as it happens. Live steaming here, come look!
In other words, the changes to the internet in the years since I first turned on my dial up modem has in a way made the internet even more important for those like me, those who crave secluded corners of privacy. That’s why it’s a little distressing for me to see the changes in the information flow, in how people behave on forums and social media web sites. I see normal people, who have no issues interacting with other people in real life barging in on my little safe zone. I can even find myself thinking unfavorably towards these people, the bubbly fashion bloggers and the attention seeking YouTube stars. “Why are you here”, I say out loud to myself. “This is my playground.” Yet, I know it’s not a possible to turn back the clock to how things were, certainly not with the way our society is evolving, slowly shunting more and more of our lives online.
Perhaps if it might fall to me to ensure I keep my safe corner on the web to myself. My blog is one way I can regain some of that old feeling, and involvement in my friend’s new website and forum, created as a friendlier place for those with the same interests to exchange ideas and hang out, is another outlet.
It is clear things won’t ever be the same on the internet, that’s just the way progress works, but what I can do is show the value of internet relationship. That just because they exist online they shouldn’t be treated with the same love and care as any regular relationship.
And with valued friends all around the globe, maybe that could be a first step towards a more peaceful planet.