Nathan Bransford, Author

Wednesday, August 31, 2011

Is the Internet Making Us Better or Worse?

Selbstporträt - Claudio Castelucho
The Internet has changed the way we live so drastically in such a brief span that it's almost impossible to even remember how things used to be.

I'm of the opinion that it's mainly been a shift for the better because of the transparency and ease of communication it fosters. Among the little things I appreciate:
  • It's much harder for businesses to rip people off and treat customers badly in a world with online reviews. Word will get around.
  • You can find amazing people in every corner of the globe that you never would have met without the Internet.
  • I love the new universal jokes that we all share, like Twitter preparing for the "apocalypse" after the crackpot preacher's prediction.
  • There's so much potential for grassroots efforts and things bubbling up to the cultural surface and collective discovery.
For the most part, social media just accelerates what we as humans do already. It makes conversations spread more quickly and frees up more time for us to do more and find the most amazing places and things and people on the planet.

On the other hand...

It's not all good. By no means is it all good. We're all closer together, and that means we're closer to the worst elements as well.

All too often people use the anonymity of the Internet to be crueler than they ever would be in real life, and the obliteration of privacy is something I'm not sure we're all really prepared for. The Internet doesn't always appeal to our best natures and can bring out the very worst in us.

What do you think - if you had to tally it all up, is the Internet making the world a better or worse place?


Laura Pauling said...

I think as a writer, the internet has helped tremendously. Through your blog and others I've learned more about industry. My writing has improved without paying thousands for classes. I've developed friendships.

Yes, there is a downside. There always is.

As a non writer, yes it's been easier to find information and get contacts. I wouldn't want to go back even though at times a life without the internet seems simplified.

Deb said...

I recommend everyone read The Filter Bubble, or just check out the site

It's NOT all good; we're starting to get trapped into a little enforced internet narcissism. I'm also increasingly leery about how much privacy I'm being asked to trade for convenient internet services.

Mr. D said...

The internet and computers in general are the reason there a a kazillion writers these days.

James said...

It's a strange tool that allows both complete anonymity while obliterating privacy.

Such a strange juxtaposition of opposites.

CourtLoveLeigh said...

I think about this a lot. Even more so after all the rioting in the UK and how much social networking helped it to go on long after it probably would have ended without the internet.

I get really annoyed when Facebook pesters me about not being on in a long time. Or when google INSISTS I link my account to my phone number for added security.

It's scary to think about soldiers overseas having to be very careful about what they post online so that they don't get killed.

But then this morning I heard about how phone companies and humanitarian groups were collaborating to help out Haiti after the hurricane and the cholera epidemics. And also, I get to write this to you right now and maybe you'll read it and hear a little of my voice. And Tahereh Mafi tweets back at me cuz she's awesome. And my favorite band posts really cool shit on tumblr or whatever. These are small things that make me feel all cozy and connected.

And so... point of all that... I can't say whether it's better or worse, only that this is the world we live in. Everybody has to make the best of that, no matter what era you're from. But it's definitely something always in my mind.

The Mom Pledge said...

I'm with you; I think overall it has made it better. But, as you discuss, there is an ugly side. I started an anti-cyberbullying campaign when I saw how bad things were getting between women. Specifically moms. But they are in no way the only group...

Lura Slowinski said...

I don't think it's doing either. Like you said, "social media just accelerates what we as humans do already." Friendship predates the internet; so does scorn. As long as people are people, we will continue to be both wonderful and awful, whether internet exists or not. The internet is just another tool that can be used well or poorly, depending on the person in front of the screen.

Kaitlyne said...

There are a lot of things I really don't like about the internet. I'm not entirely sure they outweigh the things that I do.

I was just discussing with my mother the fact that people, particularly younger people, have been losing the ability to analyze information. There's that sense that because someone said something, it's automatically true.

I worked in tutoring with college students and saw this often, and I see it in people I talk to who will often repeat bad information they've received from blogs (where opinions are often stated as fact) or unreliable sources. I think this is an incredibly dangerous trend and you see it popping up everywhere. It may not be caused by the internet so much as a failure in our education system, but the fact that so many are now turning to the internet for information has become a problem.

And then there are things such as time wastes, games, etc. I know that I tend to get more done when my internet is down, and I actively avoid most things I see my friends spending hours on, such as Facebook.

Then there are problems with lack of manners, online bullying, the fact that once it's out there it's out there, and some very serious privacy issues (I have a problem with people even posting photographs of me without my permission).

So on the one hand, I've made some great friends on forums. It gives me a way to communicate with friends who live far away cheaply and easily. On the other, there are a lot of elements that I think are more harmful than good. I would personally like to see some of those addressed in the future.

Taylor Napolsky said...

I hardly see it as for better or worse, just the natural change of society. The internet can be used for good or bad, depending on how you use it, just like weapons, capitalism, etc.

I mean, I feel the world has been tempestuous all throughout history. Some people are immoral, others are more benign and noble. So in the grand picture, I don't think the internet is affecting us in a negative or positive way, it has just allowed us to communicate more efficiently.

I guess I don't know what to compare it to. Overall, I certainly don't think it's making us worse compared to things like tyranny, slavery, human rights violations, etc.

Vivacia said...

I would say it's definitely in that lovely grey, murky middle. It's great how easy it is to connect with like minded people, and in turn how easy it is to get information. The revolution in Egypt was made a lot easier because of the internet, and I think it has massive potential to allow people to see what options there are out there and fight for their freedoms.

On the other hand, the growing trend of telling everyone everything about yourself (and the likes of Facebook and apps using information about you without your express consent) is concerning and at times dangerous. And as you say Nathan, everyone being closer means we inevitably get close to people we would never in a million years want to know. Stalking has been made much easier because of the Internet and social networks.

Overall though I wouldn't want to move the clock back; the benefits still outweigh the problems imo, and with the right awareness and self-protection the Internet is a safe, educational, and fun place to be.

Tony Russo said...

Oh by far, the Internet is helping me as a writer. I would have never read the good advice that's being exchanged among other authors in forums, never understood what makes a good query, and never would have thought about reading other writers' works.
Yes, I am bothered by some of the reviews and the tendency to lump other people's works according to titles like Harry Potter, Twilight, Neuromancer and the like. It's hard enough getting noticed around here!

Megg Jensen said...

I was just talking about this with some friends this morning! I am continually stunned at the cruel and vile things people post on Facebook. Blech.

Oh, wait, we're talking about writing here? lol. I wrote before computers and the internet. I'll still write when I'm an old lady complaining about whatever new-fangled technology everybody loves - even though I won't understand how to use it.

What the internet has done is introduce me to some amazing people I never would have met on my own. It's a great advancement for our world.

There have always been hate-filled people and there always will be. They'll find a way to spew venom no matter what. We just have to pick through that and find the good things. :)


Chipper Muse said...

Talk about timing... I blogged today about how it seems the availability of information isn't keeping us from sinking to the lowest common denominator. I believe the Internet makes us both better and worse. It helps with research and can help us connect. But I've worked as a teacher on college campuses for years, and what Kaitlyne says is true. I've watched the decline in students' critical thinking skills. They don't consider issues from all angles. They don't take time to be fully informed. That's a scary trend. Eventually, it will create a populace that is easily led by whatever propaganda they are presented. I worry about that.

Rosie Lane said...

Before the internet, advice from UK government and local councils cost a fortune to produce, and if you wanted to read a publication of any substance it would cost £20+. The council I used to work for spent a lot of money printing leaflets into multiple languages, and nobody ever took them. That was waste paper generated and money we could have spent better elsewhere. Sometimes government was opaque because it cost so damn much to be transparent.

Now legislation is available on the internet for free so that you can read for yourself what the law actually says, and most guidance publications are free to download as a PDF. If people have questions, they can find the original publications and read them for themselves, and there is less excuse not to make information available.

I can put up with all the trolls in the world for that freedom of information. I would dearly love to see research papers made available for free too rather than locked away in expensive professional journals, so that I can go to the source for that too.

However, that said, I'm not sure how much this information is valued, except to someone who remembers how hard it was to get it before.

D.G. Hudson said...

The internet has definitely zipped us into high speed as the delivery methods improve. Communication around the globe has impacted labour practices, and social structures as businesses cope with international standards. (24/7 and be quick about it!)

The danger of the internet is in the user not being aware, or informed enough of the disadvantages as well as the advantages. It's too easy to think everyone has the same principles - that isn't always true.

What I love about the internet: information is fairly easy to find, but you have to filter it to avoid information overload, and yes, the connection between those people who you might not have met if there were not some kind of virtual interface.

Remember: Connection to the Grid is unavoidable, 'resistance is futile. You will be assimilated'.

Sommer Leigh said...

It's both better and worse. I don't think I'd want to lose what I've gained, but at the same time, I mourn what I've lost.

I communicate at the speed of light. I Skype with Brandforumer Claudie who lives in another country and I read my best friend's blog and Facebook while she's away at college so we don't feel quite so far apart.

I get agitated when I can't check my email and I can practically feel the emptiness of a location without wi-fi. I think disconnecting entirely for 24 hours might kill me. I hate this kind of dependency as much as I love what I can do with it.

There's too much darkness spread too fast, especially in response to news items and current events. The republican public spouts toxicity at democrats while democrats blow off republicans without listening at all. And then it gets nasty. On YouTube, for a video by artist ADELE, the awesomeness of her music is overshadowed by comments left about how great her music would be if only she wasn't so fat.

I've learned more from the internet, felt my finger on the up-to-the-minute pulse of the world, than I ever could have without it. I've extended my fingertips across the globe and met writers and readers in Tokyo, in London, in Africa. I grieve with a city in another time zone when a hurricane washes them away, and yet I rarely call my friends because I'm no longer very good with direct communication. I text them instead because I, like a billion other people in the world, developed some kind of social anxiety where I cannot articulate at the speed of speech.

And if I go to dinner with one more friend who can't stop surfing the internet on their smart phone while I'm talking I might go crazy and make them eat their iPod instead.

So I don't know. Maybe it's because I'm an in-between generation and the generations after me who have never had to memorize a phone number in their entire lives won't feel so split in two as I do.

Lexi said...

Fascinating picture of Claudio Castelucho with an early laptop...

I'd say better, definitely, because of the friends I've made across the globe who I'd never have met without the internet. And all the things you can learn for free - if you need to know something, it's probably just a few clicks away.

Ty Johnston said...

I lean toward the negative on this one. No, I'm not a Luddite, and no I don't want to do away with the Internet or anything so drastic. Heck, I make my living mainly through the Net.

But as a species, the human race was not ready for the Internet. It has brought out the worst in us and all too often compounds the worst in us.

Child pornography thrives because of the Web, and that's just one of the worst examples. More down-to-earth examples: snarkiness, incivility, entrenched lack of thought, etc. I could go on. A lot of that might seem minor, but it's building and building. The human psyche can only take so much, and human societies only handle so much, before an implosion.

That's not to say there hasn't been much good come from the Internet. The Net is a tool, after all, but I fear it's been more for negative purposes than positive.

Call me a downer. :-)

Stephanie {Luxe Boulevard} said...

So hard to say. There are things I enjoy, like the ease it brings. Google can tell you anything you need to know. But I do miss the days when an encyclopedia reference was required in your bibliography for a school report. Do they even sell encyclopedia's anymore? New ones? I saw a set at a thrift store not too long ago and it was in a special case labeled "vintage items". I know darn well I'm not that old!
For my writing, it is great. For my home-based business, I couldn't do without it.
For myself, my home, my kiddos, I could care less.

Geoff said...

The Internet, while seemingly a giant, faceless thing, is really just people. People are capable of really great things and really horrid things. Technology will never change that. (Until we all go Equilibrium-style and take medication to flat-line our emotions and no longer truly enjoy art or music... oh wait...)

I think that overall, connectivity and communication are great things. I really wish there was a way to control the bile that anonymity spews forth, but its such a large beast to tame. Eventually I hope we will get to a point in society where we act online the same way (most) of us act in our personal lives, with at least a modicum of respect, patience, and tolerance for others. Some of the weird and outlandish things I see go down on the Web, especially involving the treatment of kids, makes my head explode. I'm thinking Jesse Slaughter and Kiki Kannibal for starters... I can't believe the things some people will say and do to a naive child who possesses an internet connection yet barely a decade of life experience.

Too often we forget that behind a photo or a screen name or an avatar is a living, breathing human being, and that is the real danger of the Internet. It has the potential to connect us to others, but how do we truly view those we're connecting with? Are they people, or have they become followers, fans, numbers and pictures; a means to an end?

(Sorry that got a little preachy and dooms-dayish, but I guess that's how I feel!) Great discussion everyone.

Darley said...

Keeping in touch with family who are out of state, using Skype, is worth the price of admission.

And being able to purchase and have delivered to my home some otherwise impossible to find item... also, priceless.

janesadek said...

Since life without the internet is impossible for me to consider, even though I've spent the greater portion of my life before the world wide web existed, it's a no-brainer. However, I dislike the trend of strengthened internet relationships at the cost of face time and I regret that internet-induced globalization dilutes the uniqueness of our backgrounds.

Anonymous said...

The Internet is just a medium. It's what you do with it that decides whether it is good or bad, although those terms are not really useful as it is an inanimate object, so it can't be either.

I don't think there is any such thing as information overload - that's bizarre to me. The logical desire when searching for information is to get as much of it as possible before making a decision. And if kids can't determine the truth from fiction when looking for information, they have only their teachers to blame.

I think the scariest thing is when the government, including the current US administration, begins to believe they should have the ability to "filter" stuff for our own good. Bad, bad idea. Freedom of information means you get it all and it's up to you to sort it out yourself. That's called personal responsibility and it comes with the right to access information.

Beyond that, as a writer the internet has made me lots of money and I'd have a much more difficult time selling stuff if it ever went I love it! :)

Matthew MacNish said...

Absolutely. I like to think of it like a global village.

I mean consider this: in history, if you wanted to know what was going on, you went down to the square, or the watering hole, whatever, and you spoke to your neighbor. Their grasp of how corrupt the empire was, or what the cost of rice would be next month, was probably not much greater than your own.

Now, your neighbor can just as easily be your sister back out west as it can be a friend you've made in Kyoto, Japan, just because you both like rare old breakbeat white labels.

News is almost instant now. This is not always a good thing, but it usually is. The ability for corruption and human oppression to escape discovery is exponentially lower than it's ever been, and it continues to get better. There are still greedy, corrupt people and corporations out there, and there probably always will be, but it's a lot harder for them to get away with it these days.

This connectedness across the planet will hopefully lead to higher consciousness, and therefore greater humanity.

Also, I just want to add: thanks for always being the White Knight of Compassion on the Internet, Nathan. You inspire us all.

Cathy Yardley said...

It's the difference between using a knife to carve a chicken vs. using a knife to stab your neighbor: it's how you choose to use it, not how it inherently influences you. JMO.

Mira said...

Great post.

I absolutely lean toward the positive on this one.

The internet is and will profoundly change how humans interact a global scale. The potential it allows for communication and community immensely powerful.

Not least accomplishment of the internet is that it broke the monopoloy on information dissemination practiced by the media and NY publishing.

Even the negatives, like bullying and targeting and sites that pander to the lowest common denominator, simply allow things that used to happen in the shadows to become visible. In the future, this will give us more of an opportunity to study and address these problems.

The potential of the internet has only barely been tapped, imho. It will change human culture in ways we probably can't anticipate.

Reagan Philips said...

Both. Honestly, I have learned so much from blogs and crit groups and it's easier to stalk my favorite agents with all these social connections.

But, just when I think I'm giving it my all and I send out my query letter, I stumble upon a new forum or post with information I coulda (read: Oh no! Crap! Shoulda!) used.

Then the painful worry sets in because my stuff is out there waiting to be rejected and I haven't listened to EVERYTHING!

So there's internet overload to add to the con list...

But let's give credit where credit is due: I'd get that my-work-sucks feeling with or without the internet. It's kinda cyclical.

Life's full of double-edge swords.

We love our work, we hate our work. Rinse. Repeat.

warlocketx said...

What a foolish question.

It's making things different. Any time things get different, there are winners and losers, and the Internet is no different.

"Better" and "worse" overall doesn't happen, with the caveat that if there are massively more winners than losers we can often call it "better". Even there, appearances can be deceptive. Suppose you could make everybody immortal by sacrificing one child via extended torture on world-wide television. Would that make things "better"?

Who wins vs. who loses in the change is a valid question, worth investigating. "Better" and "worse" are not.


Matthew MacNish said...

Personally I don't believe there's such a thing as a foolish question, but it may be just me.

Kristin Laughtin said...

I think the Internet's making the world a more intense, extreme place. Its power to reach everyone allows goodness and humor to spread more quickly, but that same power also allows for the creation of mobs and hive minds and negativity when something becomes the target. Especially in arenas where we can hide behind a screen name or an anonymous moniker, it's easy for the ugliest parts of us to bubble to the surface. In the end, it's just a tool, and might exemplify what we are but not create it.

Monica said...

It depends on how you use it, I think. If you're using it to connect with people, or to help raise money for charities like the Project For Awesome does, then great.

But then you have the people who use the Internet to anonymously spread their hateful views, or cyber criminals. Clearly, bad.

So in the end, the Internet is just an extension of what humans would be doing anyway, just on a worldwide scale now.

Rob Smith said...

I would say the internet is a good thing, overall, but that the impact of the internet is barely at 1%. A decade from now, the things we can't currently think of that folks in the Silicon Valley and Shanghai are working on will transform the world far more than it has been in the last twenty years. I think education is going to become better thanks to technology, the ability to learn new skills or just attain an education will be cheaper and the preponderance of technology in the world will allow more and more people to take advantage of services that they were previously unaware of.


The internet brings out the best of the very best savvy tech experts yet there are so many neophytes trying to get in every step of the way. More challenging this way don't you think? Highly competitive source of income if there's any.Hah.

Anonymous said...

While I do agree with the opinion most people are sharing, that the internet is neither good nor bad but what we choose to make of it, I want to add something.

The ability to instantly communicate with someone across the world in 140 characters is seriously hampering the younger generation's ability to communicate face to face.

We recently moved across the country, not an easy thing for my 12 year old daughter to do. We encouraged her to call her friends and keep in touch. What does she do? She texts all night long.

The art of conversation is being lost.

Anonymous said...

I think it's a better place.

But you have to take in the fact that although most people use the Internet for certain things, it's still very new to the majority of the public.

The people, like me, who follow blogs like this, know the Internet well. But I have friends and family who have no idea what a blog is nor do they care. In fact, most don't care. And these are doctors, attorneys, and mostly professional people. There are least two generations who don't really take the Internet that seriously. It's a thing that's there and they use it when they have to use it. But for the most part they are just as happy not using it.

It's just too soon to tell. And so much of the Internet isn't reliable, from product reviews to social networks where people have multiple identities. There's still a long way to go.

Ann M said...

Great post!

On a personal level, I think the internet is like any tool - it is only as helpful or hurtful as the user lets it be. So, I suppose, for better or worse, we can see the good and the bad of people more quickly.

I think there might be a slightly addictive side to the internet, but, it's up to us to limit ourselves.

And, I think we must always analyze whatever data we find (and there's so much of it available now!). As Mad-Eye Moody would say: "Constant Vigilance!" :)

Katherine Hyde said...

I'm not sure anyone can say whether the internet overall is making us better or worse. But I will add a couple of ill effects to your list:

1) It has conditioned people to read in small bites, so that the attention-span-lowering effect of movies and TV is heightened yet more. That means it's even harder to get people to read a thoughtful sort of book, or any book at all.

2) The surface kind of community available on the internet can delude people into thinking they have more of a real connection to others than they actually do. A virtual connection is better than nothing, but it cannot replace face-to-face relationships—yet many people are tempted to think it can.

Ulysses said...

I think the internet is making everything easier. I don't think it's responsible for making us better or worse.

I think that it's making it easier for the best of us to reach others. By the same token, it's making it easier for the worst of us to do the same.

I believe the internet is allowing us to be more of whatever we already are.

If a harsh word goes around the world, I don't blame the Internet. I blame the person who uttered or wrote it. Of course, this assumes that the word was issued in malice. Accidents and misunderstandings need to be recognized and the harm they've done mitigated.

Bill S. put it nicely, so I'll paraphrase: "the fault lies not in our connections, but in ourselves."

Michael Offutt said...

Asking this question is similar to pointing out the pros and cons to living in a big city. You have access to everything yet you don't want all those people to be in your back yard. I think that people are fooling themselves when they move into big cities and then pay all the money for high walls, security, and gated neighborhoods. If you hate people...then you shouldn't live in the middle of 2 million of them and expect them all to behave. The same goes for the internet...if you fear that your privacy may be jeopardized...then DON'T GET ON THE INTERNET.

Jo Eberhardt said...

I think the internet is making things better and people are making things worse, just like with every other significant advancement over the last 3000 years. The internet is a tool. It has a purpose, which is a positive one, but can easily be used for nefarious ends. This isn't a new thing. Think about all the grief we would have saved ourselves if we'd never invented guns. Or electricity. Or fire.

Jenny Phresh said...

I tend to think it's improved my lot since I have met some wonderful online friends--except for the time-wasting which inevitably occurs when one could be writing. Here is an interesting study, however, on reading print versus online (in this case, the New York Times). Turns out getting your hands dirty really is better!

abc said...

I don't think too much about the bad side. I LOVE the internet! I love that I can have a dictionary, thesaurus, and encyclopedia at my fingertips. I love that I can learn about so many things. If my daughter asks me about hummingbird nests, then we can so easily find out. I love that I can order clothes online and not have to brave dressing room mirrors. I love that I can download movies and television shows and music. I love that I can look up pictures of my celebrity crushes and read blogs from crafters in Australia and find 1000 recipes for chocolate chip cookies IMMEDIATELY and find out what my friends (who happen to live in Austin) just read. I love email. I love you tube. I love that we can all know what an Epic Fail is and share a laugh about the double rainbow guy. The internet makes us smarter, more informed, more connected, and --in my case--much, much cooler.

Laura Marcella said...

It's people who make things good and bad. Not the things themselves. The internet can always be a good, beneficial place if everyone chose to be honest, courteous, and helpful. Unfortunately, people don't always make those choices.

Hillsy said...

I don't want to sound like a heavily bearded man, crafting circular sentances that say utterly nothing but sound like great wisdom, but.....

The internet is all about potential. Nothing more, nothing less. The human race has a factor of potential above that of dolphins, chimps, elephants etc....and we have brought greatest and horror in equal measure on a scale unseen before.

The internet is the same. It's potential for greatness could be staggering - but on the flipside it's a tool for criminals, the exploitatious(?) and the manipulative.

As with humans, the potential that will be realized will be a little from the entire range, just very unlikely from the real extremities of (sorry to sound trite) good and evil.

As a note of optimism. We're still very new at this internet thing and the full range of it's potential has yet to be realised. Fingers crossed we'll find more excellent things to do with it than ill.

Karen S. Elliott said...

I've met people from all over the U.S. - some I've become very "close" with (as close as the internet allows). I've met people from all over the globe and have had wonderful exchanges and discussions. I've met people I would never have met otherwise. I just read an article about a blogger who was under the gun with excessive abuse via the internet, so that part of your article hit home. I do not understand why people feel the need to be abusive - their lives are lacking severely I would imagine. I understand disagreements - that's what makes life interesting and gets good conversation going. I do miss the interaction of face-to-face, but the life of a work-at-home writer/proofreader/editor is a solitary life.

Anne R. Allen said...

I think its influence is mostly positive.

For one thing, it brings a fantastic melding of cultures and sharing of ideas. I now count among my friends people in dozens of countries all over the world.

It's also completely egalitarian. As our politicians push us closer and closer to a rigid neo-feudal culture of haves and have-nots, the Internet gives us all equal worth.

It also gives us equal access to knowledge. Knowledge is power.

Like all great technological innovations--whether road-building or printing or the internal combustion engine--it's bound to have downsides. Loss of privacy is one. Anonymous bullying is another. (As somebody said--amazing paradox, that.) Time frittering is another. And there are many more.

But the invention of print brought about the Reformation, and subsequently, the Inquisition. Does that mean we were better off when only kings and Cardinals could have copies of the Bible? I don't think so.

Change is sometimes tough. But always necessary.

lisalenardcook said...

For its upcoming e-edition, I just finished revising a novel I first wrote in 1995 & that was published in 2003, & I have to say how wonderful it is to be able to type a phrase into a search engine rather than driving 40 miles across 2 mountain passes to get to the library whenever I have to fact-check (especially important in fiction, the teacher in me must add).

It occurs to me that some of your readers may not have been born in 1995, so everyone can call me Nana.

I'll let you all know when the e-edition of Dissonance comes out.

Thanks for all you do, Nathan. I don't write often, but I always read your posts.

R Elland said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
R Elland said...

Hmn... and I just wrote this to someone.
The Internet. The human mind writ large. In it, each one of us becomes a thought that leads to great dream made real, or our darkest fears ripping us from the hidden recesses we call the subconscious.

The Internet is not making us better or worse though. But it is showing us the greatest and smallest side of our humanity. We are capable of infinite reach, but have so much infinite fear. And the Internet has come about to show just what we reach for, and what we fear of ourselves.
We rage against the smallest thing said, writing whole blogs about the silliest acts. And yet we show such utter compassion in the simplest wish of a child.
I don't think the question is invalid of course. I do think however that even after many years with it's growth, we have so much to learn of ourselves.
That is the truth of the Internet. It is not a tool of goals, but a tool we use to commit to the journey that shows us who and what we are. Good and bad.

Hollister Ann Grant said...

I shared books this week with a writer in Finland (I bought his and he bought mine) and chatted with an Australian writer living in London. I love the connections the internet brings.

There's a dimension to the real world, though, that means more than anything a computer can offer. Sunlight. A conversation with my neighbor. A walk with my dog into the fields.

I tend to be online too much and sometimes feel I'm losing touch with the richness of life -- it's like watching too much TV. In the end, there's more to life than a mechanical hunk of plastic.

tanyagrove said...

I disagree with Ric, who said, "What a foolish question....It's making things different. Any time things get different, there are winners and losers, and the Internet is no different."

The world does not have to divide up into winners and losers at all—that's such a black and white, simplistic view of the world.

It's all been said already, but I believe that the positives far outweigh the negatives. And I do not consider the question foolish at all.

Angela Brown said...

It is really a matter of defining better or worse. By their varying perspectives alone, the argument can go twenty ways east of Eden. What it has done is made it easier to see and experience the worse in us.

Dogs don't go online and type out a spam e-mail then hack into some poor unsuspecting person's account and send it to everyone in their address book (at least not the four-legged canine kind). Humans do this.

Anonymity provides a mask to say and do some of the ugliest things that could ever be thunk by another human being.

Naivete deludes some into posting mortifying things that could one day end up in the inbox of some stranger in Peru.

Facebooking your trip to Alaska could find you returning to a home emptied out by some person of selfish intentions but a faithful FB friend.

But with all of this, we are still humans, and despite all the silly, stupid, disrespectful cruel things we can say or do in the name of First Amendment rights, we are humans. The internet allows us to interact with each other in ways that were just considered science fiction fantasies. We converse, traverse, blog tour, blogfest and WriteOnCon our way into connecting with a ton of great people.

MJR said...

We lost our power during Irene and had no internet access. I really couldn't do much all day except lie on the couch and read a book. Yet it felt really good to get away from facebook, etc etc. And Irene forced us to get to know a few of our city neighbors and actually talk to people on the street (god forbid)...I like the internet, but I'm trying to limit it these days because it's too easy to get sucked into it and forget about the world outside.

Shell Flower said...

The internet is evolution at its finest. This question brings to mind E.M. Forster's short story The Machine Stops . If you haven't read it, you really should and it's available free all over the internet. Score for the internet. LOL. It's kinda scary and a little sad as we leave a more oral and physical-based phase in our evolution. The internet is just a sign that we are that much closer to being pure thought, or light maybe. Still, those people who can't sit and chat with a friend over coffee without checking their social networking sites, email, etc. on their phone every five seconds annoy the hell out of me.

enermazing said...

Life is what we make of it :)

The internet is part of our world and our life as it is, this moment.

Whether it makes us better or worse is entirely up to us, depends on our choice and our decisions.


Gabriella said...

One of the side effects of instant communication is that it feels like we are all living on our short term memory. If it happened 2 hours ago, it is old news. If it happened yesterday, it is ancient news. And if it happened last is almost as if it didn't happen at all.

It is just something I'm noticing these days. Don't know what it means or where it is headed, but I've noticed it.

PJ Lincoln said...

I think the positives do outweigh the negatives, Nathan, and I'm saying that as a person whose industry (newspapers) were essentially destroyed by the Internet.

Alana Roberts said...

It's hard for me to say "better" or "worse" because I see the internet more as a social phenomenon than a technological one - the technology appeared when society "wanted" it.

Both the good and bad aspects of internet "community" that you listed, Nathan, are versions of things that people would have shared with one another if their lives were still constricted to a small village. We're just seeing them on a vastly larger scale. The jokes, the meetings, the reputations - as well as the lack of privacy and the opportunities for abuse. These things definitely take on their own character in an internet world, however, as you pointed out.

I think the world "got bigger" with the rise of big cities, big corporations, and big government - so communication had to get bigger as well, in order for us to keep being human. Had to. It's a balancing factor, a response that equalizes what was off-kilter.

I guess that brings me down on the side of good, as in natural, necessary, and inevitable. Not always good in a specific way, but then, that's people for you! It does bring up questions of where things are headed, though. As in, do we now have a global responsibility in a sense our ancestors never did? Or is that only an illusion because of how much information we have? But the bottom line seems to be, that human life has always provided and always will provide opportunities both to do good and to wrong one another.

stacy said...

Overall I think it's better. I spend a lot of time alone, and the Internet helps me to feel less lonely. Some people say the whole Internet/social media thing is phony——mostly because people can better control what other people see by choosing what they post——but I don't feel that way at all. I've met and worked with people I never would have had the chance to otherwise. But there's a dark side, too.

Anonymous said...

I limit my time on the internet and forums to no more than 60 minutes in a day, and I consider that excessive, in a life where I don't get much time to write until 8 PM. So I try to do only 30 minutes in a day. I don't do FaceBook at all. On weekends I don't touch the internet. I get out and do things, or write.

Better or worse? Oh, worse. Loads of convenience, sure, and some unforeseen benefits. But people have traded local community for web community, and that's not a good bargain. I see people out walking their dogs now who can't take their eyes off the screen. Sad. But their choice. Not mine, though.

Alleged Author said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Alleged Author said...

*erased former comment because I lacked content*

Better or worse? No one can answer that question without bias. I live by the golden rule as it applies to the internet:

"Just because you CAN doesn't mean you SHOULD."

'Nuff said.

veela-valoom said...

Can I say it's a wash? I love the Internet, really I do. I don't do anything online to make the world a worse place (intentionally that I know of).

But the internet brings out the worst in people. I live in a small town and I don't know if you've dealt much with the horror that is topix or the scum that trolls youtube videos, but there's a lot of darkness online. Topix is the scummiest, worst, bottom-feeding part of society. And the anonymity of it makes people free to be there worse selves. It disgusts me.

Then I see the things people said to Rebecca Black about Friday (awful, but so dang catchy I sing it sometimes).

I think the bad is something that most people try to control--the thoughts everybody has but doesn't voice. Now people are voicing them anonymously. Moms are bullying teenager girls on myspace, people are talking about the most slutty highschool girls on topix (really) and facebook rumors are perpetuating racism (happened in my small town).

We might like to to think the internet is all roses, sunshine and kumbaya. That's the way I try to use it. There's a lot of good that happens. I'm just not sure all the good outweighs all the negativity and harassment.

H.F. "Pete" Grimm III said...

Embrace it or hate it, it's here to stay.
Reactionary people had issues when the car (mostly) replaced the horse. Amish still eschew most modern trappings (as do conservative Muslims). TV and radio are parts of the "Great Satan."
The internet is neither bad not good. It simply is. What we do with it, how we let it affect our lives can be bad or good, but let's not blame any deleterious effects of our choices on the medium. The good and bad lies squarely on our shoulders, as it always has, and will.

Scott said...

Jaron Lanier doesn't much like the direction we're going with the Internet. He's got some very interesting ideas in You Are Not a Gadget. I'll take the liberty of quoting a piece of Chapter One:

"Anonymous blog comments, vapid video pranks, and lightweight mashups may seem trivial and harmless, but as a whole, this widespread practice of fragmentary, impersonal communication has demeaned interpersonal interation."

frauwyler said...

I would say that it has allowed us to see just how bad people are and can be...People haven't changed, we are just able to see them for who they really are, anonymously of course...

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