How “New Media” is leading us towards an inevitable breakdown in both human interaction and civilitySimply put, I don’t think I could live without the Internet. Never mind the fact that I spent about half of my life devoid of any and all online applications or resources, the reality is that the genie is out of the proverbial bottle, and there’s no way civilization can continue functioning, as is, without Internet technologies.
My job depends on the Internet, my schooling depended on the Internet, and a good 90 percent of my recreation likewise stems from the Web, or other Web-born applications. The Internet isn’t just a computer tool, it’s an inescapable aspect of reality - it’s on our gaming consoles, our televisions, our phones, our cars and, in a few years time, it’ll probably be embedded in our very skulls. We literally never leave the Internet anymore…it’s not just a vital component of our daily lives, the Internet pretty much IS our lives nowadays.
The ironic thing at this point is that while the Internet is clearly responsible for the modern world we live in today, there’s a very good chance that the Internet could - perhaps much sooner than later - lead to at least a partial collapse of society itself. I’m not talking about technical scenarios, like Y2K or some global virus phenomenon, but rather, the ways in which “New Media” negatively influence our abilities to communicate, reason and interact with one another as human beings.
Let me preface this article by saying that it is really, really long, and gets pretty intricate and complex regarding communication theories and a few logical presuppositions (but don’t worry, I still managed to sneak in some sophomoric humor whenever I could.) My main argument here is a rather simple one; that the proliferation of an “online culture” (which is ostensibly different than “popular culture”) has lead to a mini-crisis of sorts regarding how people debate, reason and express ideas to one another - an effect that has clearly had negative repercussions for both civil conversation and democratic discourse.
You probably won’t agree with half of the things I say, but it will at least get you thinking a bit, which is really a lot more than you can say about a good 99.9 percent of the stuff you’ll find on the Web these days (and that’s a figure that can be ratcheted up to 100 percent if you still use Digg.) So, without further ado, here’s my ridiculously in-depth essay on how the ‘net is at least somewhat to blame for our cultural woes…and even more terrifying, how it could portend some future miseries on the horizon.
THREE REASONS WHY THE INTERNET IS DESTROYING CIVILIZATION
REASON NUMBER ONE:
High school is about as close as most of us ever get to being incarcerated. You’re stuck in a place you really don’t want to be, with people you don’t want to be around, while beholden to the rules and regulations of people you really don’t like. Every day, it’s the same old, same old, and the only diversions are extremely stupid pranks, stunts and possible felonies conducted by your peers. It’s life inside a cinder-block, with thousands upon thousands of generally boring and mundane people - a sizable portion of which are almost assuredly mentally insane - standing between you and the accomplishment of whatever it is you are assigned to do. For most of us, escaping high school is one of the greatest days of our entire lives - primarily, because it’s supposed to signal an end to juvenility and all the irrationality and idiocy that accompanies it.
But thanks to the Internet, however, we never HAVE to leave that wonderful world of perpetual harassment and herd mentality. If you’re a part of any social networking system - be it Facebook, YouTube, a blog, a forum, whatever - your basically reenrolling in the 10th grade. Or, at least, that’s about the level of maturity you’ll be working with, anyway.
We’ve all heard the horror stories - mostly, the extreme cases, where kids get bullied so much online that they just up and kill themselves. While severe stories of the like are rather aberrational, it’s pretty much a given that, at some point, you’re going to get chided, cursed out and/or threatened by some troglodyte on the Web that just can’t TOLERATE the fact that someone has the audacity to believe something different than they do. It doesn’t matter how innocuous one of your postings may be, SOMEBODY out there will find a reason to call you a racial slur, just because. A lot of times, just being female is enough to get targeted, often by basement dwelling lunatics that are one deleted DeviantArt account away from going on a murder spree. I’d say that on any given social networking site, at least a quarter to a third of its users are genuine psychopaths - which, oddly, is just about the same ratio of “normal” people-to-sociopaths you’d find at the average American high school.
As in high school, you see LOTS and LOTS of cliques on the Web, with people with niche interests forming enclaves - whether its moms that like to turn pickle jars into crafts projects, or art school dropouts that think they’re vampires. It’s probably for the best if you avoid anything that resembles a “forum,” because the hive mind levels there are particularly severe. That, and let’s just call it like it is - if something is being hosted by ProBoards, odds are, it’s probably only for people obsessed with something really, really stupid, or something really, really gross anyway.
The absolute worst offenders are sites like Reddit or 4Chan, which are pretty much FILLED with single-ideology proponents that lack any and all ability to think for themselves, which probably explains the popularity of meme macros - which, at any given moment, represent about 75 percent of the “posts” you’ll find on sites of the like. In a way, it reminds me of the bad old days of high school, where one kid would say something stupid/offensive at lunch one day and for the next two weeks, it was all anybody ever talked about. As an online culture, that STILL seems to be how things work, with one generally inane/pointless Web artifact becoming absurdly “popular” and being propagated all over the place. As with high school, there is a perpetual dependency - a worship, really - of what is perceived to be popular, meaning that things that are original, contrary or generally well though-out are discarded while the familiar, the vulgar and the completely commonplace reigns supreme.
So, if you’re wondering how innovations and enlightenment is supposed to arise from such a climate…well, that makes two of us.
REASON NUMBER TWO:discursive democracy” is a pretty simple idea to grasp; in a certain venue, people are allowed to promote and explain their ideas, beliefs and values, and although those things may differ from person to person, nobody flat out rejects, alienates or chastises someone else based PURELY on the fact that those things are perceived to be different. That’s because there’s a mutually agreed-upon “social contract” of sorts signed by all parties, with the implicit agreement of “hey, I won’t monkey with you, pending you won’t monkey with me.” Debates and criticisms are allowed, but they are dictated by things like reason and logic, with an ample seasoning of respect and, if absolutely nothing else, personal restraint. Unless you’re advocating something really, really extreme or just being a general dick about things, your opinion is considered merited, and despite its’ perceived unpopularity or unfamiliarity, nobody will chide you for “just” being different from the perceived “group consensus.”
Now, here’s a complete list of the number of intelligent, reasonable and intellectually-open debates I’ve had on the Internet: zero.
Honestly, you can’t have discursive democracy on the Internet, because very few people on the ‘net view the Web as a genuine souk for ideas and concepts - and even more so because EVEN LESS people on the Web know how to have intelligent, reasonable adult conversations about ANYTHING.
At some point, someone is going to take offense at something you say, do or post on the Web. Generally, this results in a generic putdown, in which the fellatio skills of your mother are called into question by some person you will never, ever see in real life. A good 90 percent of the time, “Internet criticism” consists of sophomoric name calling and several empty threats of bodily harm, but every now and then, you get lucky and somebody CALLS YOU OUT for debate. At this point, the best thing to do is hit the “block” button and log their ISP, but sometimes, the gravitational pull is just too much. It’s like getting challenged to a fist fight with a kid that has epilepsy - you know things are going to end horribly, but damn it, you want to see JUST how horrible it can get.
In my Internet forays, I’ve noted four “modes of logic” that seem to pop up time and time again. In a good 99 percent of occasions, Internet “criticism” routinely takes one of the below paths:
1.) The “Failure-to-Recognize-a-Tripartite-Argument” Argument
In the real world, lines of logic follow a three-part path. If A is B, then it’s because of C. Here’s a really simple example: Smoking (A) is bad (B), because it can give you cancer (C). It’s a really rudimentary model, but one you almost NEVER see on the Internet. That’s because, rarely (if ever), do Web critics feel the need to include a THIRD element (C) to explain why (A) IS (B).
Take, for example, the most fundamental of Internet criticisms - “you suck.”
The arguments consists of an (A) element - that being “you” - and a (B) element - being “suck.” The criticism here becomes tautological, with (A) being (B) WITHOUT a conditional that MAKES (A) something that is (B). That’s about as basic as logical failures get, but a good goddamn, do you almost NEVER encounter people that go that extra mile and explain WHY “you suck.” Then again, that’s not really the worst case scenario here, because when the infrequent Web critic DOES decide to go that extra mile…
2.) The “Uncited Claim” Argument
If most people on the Web are incapable of stringing together logically sound tripartite arguments, then the number of people that actually throw out logically sound tripartite arguments that actually have merit is roughly the same proportion of Mensa members in the cast of “Jersey Shore.” So, you make the assertion that A is B, because of C, but what do they almost always forget to do?
That’s right, they never give you PROOF that C is what causes A to B! This sort of fallacious argument, you’ve no doubt encountered many, many times before during your Internet sojourns. Perhaps you make a statement, using tripartite reasoning, to which some random yahoo on the same network responds to by saying “this claim is stupid,” or “[insert celebrated figure] here has never [insert negative deed here].” Both sorts of responses lack that important “C” component, the causal agent that makes the “A is B” argument coherent. So, one’s opinion may be considered “stupid,” but the reasons as to WHY one’s opinion is stupid is never elaborated upon. Even worse is the second example, in which some dweeb on the ‘net makes a factual statement (that is clearly based on biased personal opinion), with NO sorts of secondary information that makes his or her assertion valid. Por exemple: If I were to say that “President Obama, in his youth, had a part-time job playing Grimace in a series of McDonalds commercials,” the first inclination any rational human being may have is, I don’t know, where the hell that sort of “info” came from, not withstanding supplemental information that makes the claim behind the claim even remotely feasible. At best, you might get an out of context quote (which is usually erroneous or wrongly attributed to begin with), or a long string of references to events, acts and transpirations that the critic says to be true or have a certain sort of effect….although, he or she never really provides solid, confirmed, dry-to-the-bone proof that what he or she is posting is even remotely glued into the fabric of reality, let alone connected as a single idea. (Recipe for Fun: say something negative about Alex Jones or Ron Paul on the Web, and watch a litany of “uncited claims” arguments get tossed at you like fleas shaken from a junkyard dog.)
3.) The “Magic Word” Argument
Sometimes, Internet critics don’t even feel the need to string together responses that resemble language, choosing to ignore all of that logic, reasoning and cause-and-effect bullshit to shoot down your opinion, your worldview and everything about you as a human being using one key term or two that, supposedly, blanks out everything about your opinion and completely negates whatever weight or merit your argument may contain. Here’s an abridged list of terms commonly used to “magically” counter controversial opinions on the Web:
- “Racist” (may also substitute “misogynistic,” “homophobic,” or “bigoted”)
- “Illogical” (or “irrational” or “unreasonable” or any other terms that are used to espouse mental coherency on part of the people that foster the same perspectives as the person using said terms, while immediately discrediting any and all other viewpoints as mathematically invalid)
- “Biased” or “Unprofessional” (even though there’s really nothing biased or unprofessional about what one posts or submits - it’s just that some single-issue ideologists take THAT much offense to anything that shines light on what it is that they feel strongly about that they end up seeing imaginary criticisms or, yelp, “censorship” in places where no such things are actually happening)
- “Laughable” (or “mistaken,” or “erroneous,” or “invalid,” or “untrue” - essentially, whenever people want to complain about something, but have no coherent basis for said complaints, these sneaky snakes come into play)
Yes, these responses are wholly irritating, and make actual debate all but impossible online. Alas, it’s still not THE death knell for civic conversation on the Web…
4.) The “Verbal Assault” Response
This is where any and all notions of Internet civility and discursive online democracy get shot to shit in front of our very eyes. It’s a real simple - and almost entirely unavoidable - phenomenon: you say something that someone doesn’t like, and he or she responds by threatening to kill you, rape your mother or insist that everyone within your ethnic or racial demographic be the victims of genocide. Clearly, going after religious or political elements is a good way to get people fired up, but it amazes me how some of the most stringent, verbally abusive “criticism” I’ve ever received has been from totally pointless issues, like entertainment (as in, the one guy that said he was going to kill me for not liking John Lennon’s music - just think about that one for a minute.) Things get worse, because where there’s one human cockroach, there’s bound to be a thousand more literally waiting to pounce upon anyone that says things that are negative about whatever it is that they believe in. Ayn Rand fanatics, Libertarians, Nintendo fan boys, comic book nerds - it’s almost as if they do NOTHING but sit around hitting the refresh button on Reddit and YouTube, just WAITING to harass anyone that goes against their ideologies. Upon checking out some Goggle analytics for my media projects, it recently dawned on me that, yeah, there really are people that just sit around on the Web, down voting and leaving mendacious comments all over the place because their “object of endearment” has been even remotely slighted. (And a reminder, pricks and puds: I’ve got your IP addresses logged, too.)
I suppose the only thing more irritating than such verbally abusive responses from ideologue nutcases is when people leave completely context-less responses, such as “meh” or “tl;dr,” or if you’re very unfortunate, some reference to a meme that a good 99 percent of the real world wouldn’t get (and even less would find funny, even understanding the origins of said meme.) A vast portion of Internet denizens are in the field of criticism for the sake of just being critical…which, in case you haven’t observed, is a pretty big damn barrier to having anything that resembles actual human communication on the ‘net.
REASON NUMBER THREE:
It distorts our vision of reality
|Workers at Ground Zero, clearly unaware that what they're cleaning up was perpetrated by Zionist reptilians.|
It’s not really a new observation that most people that spend inordinate amounts of time in cyberspace (an exception can be made for those that actually use the Web for industrious purposes, as in actual, physical, I’m getting paid real-people-money for this work and constructive media projects) are losers and general failures of human beings. The thing is, there’s such a pervasive influence from these dorks and dweebs that the “online world” begins to take a shaping that is decisively unlike the real world outside of our laptops and tablets.
Let’s begin with a really obvious one: the fact that the Internet gets us to believe that majority opinions ARE majority ones. If you spend any amount of time on the Web, you’ve probably incurred the wrath of adamant atheists, religiously devoted Ron Paul supporters or individuals that truly, deeply believe that 9/11 was an “inside job” and that a mysterious shadow organization known as the “Illuminati” controls world commerce. If what you see at user-generated-content sites like YouTube, Reddit and Wikipedia are any indication, than atheists are CLEARLY outnumbering all of those bothersome theists, Ron Paul is universally adored and adulated by all peoples and that EVERYBODY knows the Bilderbergs are the root cause of all of humanity’s problems.
The thing is, while there is an inordinate amount of influence from believers and supporters of the above on the Internet and popular Internet applications…they’re not really speaking for the world at large. In reality (and despite all of the Internet hoopla) Ron Paul has never won a single goddamn presidential primary or caucus, less than 2 percent of the total U.S. population consider themselves “atheistic” and only 15 percent of the U.S. population thinks that the 9/11 attacks were carried out by secretive ops within the U.S. government (and not that there may be any crossover here, but according to the Anti-Defamation League, the exact SAME percentage of Americans also harbor “deeply anti-Semitic propensities,” so make of that information what you will.)
Similarly, the congregation and virtual weight of niche interest enthusiasts has made it seem like things with limited popular appeal are indeed “mainstream” tastes. The Internet is glutted with hardcore anime, comic book and video game aficionados, so much so that it feels like every person under the age of 30 has seen “Paprika,” knows who or what a Joe Quesado is and/or is deeply, deeply outraged that “Mother 3” has yet to be ported to an American console.
The thing is, the contrast between “geek news” and actual news is a rather stark one. For example, the fact that a large fan fiction service disallowed sexually explicit entries may be an earth-shattering event for a select few, but outside of the “amateur journalists” at Wikinews (read: people that have no idea what they are doing), the event means pretty much nothing to the world at large. Even the mega, hyper, super-duper pop culture events (like “The Dark Knight Rises” or the “Call of Duty” games) get only a brief mention on the front page of The New York Times or The Washington Post, because as fate would have it, all of that meaningless bullshit people go nuts about on Reddit and IGN don’t seem to have an actual affect on global events. Surprisingly, the fact that Syria may or may not have nuclear weaponry, or that Israeli officials may or may not be abusing the civil rights of Muslim citizens, or the fact that there may or may not be a secretive “resource war” going on right now in Africa between the U.S. and China is considered just mildly more significant to humanity as a collective than the announcement of a redesigned 3DS or the Green Lantern relaunching as a gay superhero. Hey, I’m just as shocked as you are.
Thanks to popular Internet culture, what we’re experiencing is something of an inversion of the agenda-setting principle, in which niche interests within new media are, in essence, forcing mainstream media to cover and focus on niche interests (even though an overwhelming majority of the mainstream audience could give less than a shit what all those dorks and dweebs on 4Chan or Something Awful care about, anyway.) So, online culture is pushing us into not only believing that minority, niche perspectives are mainstream (or even majority) ones, but ultimately goading us into finding “cultural significance” in things that have either limited or virtually zero REAL significance to society at large.
A lot of you are probably thinking “so, who cares if stupid bullshit on the Internet begins permeating culture en masse?” Well, it’s because it’s creating a perfect storm for a wide scale, cultural “breakdown” in social values and civility. Hyperbole? Let’s examine a few adverse effects of “Internet culture” on real world culture, shall we?
Problem One - It’s Turning All of Us Into Schizophrenics
The influence of the World Wide Web on actual human life is so severe that, in many ways, its forcing us to develop two separate identities - a real world “self,” and the “self” that exists in cyberspace. The problem here is, people are never “who they are” in the Internet as they are in “real life” - so a bunch of scrawny geeks in the “real world” turn themselves into Internet bullies and trolls and dull, hyper-ostracized college kids “transform” into some charismatic online “persona” in a series of YouTube videos. You don’t really need me to tell you this, but the rift between “Online Self” and “Actual Self” is frequently pretty damn wide. I direct you to the story of “Kiki Kannibal,” a super popular, new media personality that has scores of online admirers/stalkers…despite being nothing more than a minimum-wage paid cashier in the “real world.”
The problem here is two-fold: possibility one is that people get so sucked into developing their “online selves” that they completely neglect their real world responsibilities (as common with oh-so-many a WOW player), and possibility two - which, if you can believe it, is even more horrifying - is that people get their “online” and “real-life” selves so jumbled and confused that they legitimately have no idea who it is they are or what they believe in anymore. And from there, it’s really only a matter of time until they appoint themselves a “real-life” Travis Bickle or show up on the evening news bare-ass naked, swinging a katana at a SWAT team.
Problem Two - It Gives People the ILLUSION of Having Social Significance, Worth or Value
Thanks to the Web, people can sit around being unemployed, malnourished and in various stages of decay WITHOUT feeling bad about themselves anymore. That’s primarily because human beings can now achieve an illusory sense of “social acceptance” via online applications; that is, gaining a modicum of power, influence or respect online, when nobody in the real world would give two shits if they lived or died the next day.
You all know what kind of people I’m talking about. The kinds of people that made $37 dollars last year selling shitty homemade jewelry on Etsy, while the rest of their annual income was derived from welfare checks. Or how about the people that have high scores on Minecraft, at the cost of having two kids without diapers or formula? And then, there are the kids that have YET to even receive a paycheck from Google that think they’re the next Mark Zuckerburg because their blogs or YouTube accounts are equipped with AdSense. Oddly enough, these are the same ass hats that bicker and moan about the “dilution of their civil liberties” whenever their accounts get shut down, usually after posting 12 and a half hours of hentai that made them heroes to thousands upon thousands of miserable, misguided sons of bitches the world over for about a day or two.
Even more pathetic are the pitiful souls that seem to NEVER leave certain social bookmarking sites or message boards. These are people that do NOTHING but post link after link of other people’s work under the auspices that it will increase their forum scores, because…well, in some galaxy, that surely has to mean something to some form of intelligent life, right?
And good god, the power tripping prima donnas that somehow find themselves “moderators” of certain message boards or sub-channels. Despite having a nominal “authority” over a microscopic percentage of humanity, they all SEEM to believe they are the Pope or something, wielding such a monumental amount of influence and responsibility that the ENTIRE WORLD would collapse sans their oversight…a dire predicament indeed, seeing as how the only thing standing between an orderly Web and rampant anarchy seems to be them and their ability to pick up a steady Wi-Fi signal while in their parents’ basement.
Problem Three - It Causes People to Celebrate and Embrace Acting Like an Asshole
The online world is glutted with ironic celebrations, incessant politicking (frequently, over the most trivial of issues) and the complete and utter rejection of civil communication. YouTube is filled with pointless vlogs hosted by “attention whores” that clearly have mental health issues, sick and depraved “stunts” conducted by new-wave circus geeks, the “humorous” musings of hate-filled sociopaths, and is a general haven for any and all varieties of sickos, scumbags and sexual degenerates. Meanwhile, numerous websites - and in some instances, full blown wikis - have been established by people that take joy and amusement in ridiculing and harassing other human beings, in particular people that are quite obviously impoverished and/or individuals with autism spectrum disorders. In short order, virtual “lynch mobs” form and target those that are perceived to be “weak,” in the process destroying people’s livelihoods and reputations just for laughs and guffaws. This is behavior that is not only standard Internet procedure, but a “ritual” that is pretty much ordained and encouraged by many, many websites - in essence, breeding a culture in which people find nothing at all “wrong” in mocking the miseries and misfortunes of their fellow man. Clearly, such a mentality has no bearings on the “real world” whatsoever, and the potentiality for crossover surely has to be absolutely zilch, right?
|Did you know that prior to becoming an Internet meme, this man was responsible for the deaths of at least 12 million people?|
Problem Four - It Encourages Hive-Minded Thinking
There’s this thing out there called “groupthink,” which is a disorder in which people stop thinking as cognizant individuals and begin thinking as members of a certain group, which has a discernable “greater significance” than the individual him or herself. It’s a spooky prospect, because it means people are willing to VOLUNTARILY stop acting as a cerebral human being and adopt the mindset of some higher entity or organization, simply because they find it more productive (or more likely, because they are scared shitless by how that same entity or organization would treat them if they thought for themselves.)
Groupthink is rampant pretty much everywhere. If you work at an organization, you develop a certain “mentality” that everybody else has, because you have a shared goal and a shared communal experience. ALL religious and political leaders exploit the hell out of this, which in turn, creates extremely dogmatic individuals that have completely lost the ability to form their own lines of thinking WITHOUT having their thoughts filtered through some book, lecture or individual’s ideology. It happens at home, at school, in college, everywhere…and while “order” may arise from such mindsets, it’s almost ALWAYS incurs the penalization of free thought as an after-effect.
In an online context, this means but one thing: that which is unpopular is clearly bad, and must be eradicated. A good example would be Reddit, where accounts are penalized when user posts receive “too many down votes.” This isn’t an objective call mind you - to the best of my knowledge, there is no great ombudsmen that dictates what has “worth” as a post - but rather, an algorithmic process that simply eliminates content that is routinely unpopular with certain masses. Never mind the fact that it’s a horribly ill-planned model - it doesn’t matter if 100 people like your post, if 101 DON’T like it, you’re automatically penalized - it’s a systematic measure that pretty much ENSURES that controversial, contrarian or non-conformist ideas are kept out of the public eye, or at the very best, relegated to specific niches (in this case, “sub-reddits”) that will only be seen by like-minded individuals, anyway. In that, there’s no defensive safeguards in place that promote or encourage the challenging, questioning or criticizing of popular ideas and ideals - a malady that afflicts every social-aspect of the Web and ensures “hive mind thinking” will go utterly unopposed, no matter which recesses of the Internet one travels to.
So, back to that “perfect storm” of factors I was talking about earlier - you know, the confluence of “online behaviors” that could possibly leap over to “real life” and expedite a wave of mass incivility and antisocial activity? It’s a hard sell, I know, but really, just how bad can it get when people, many of which are economically hopeless and easily moldable to perceived popular causes, not to mention prone to herd mentality and deathly afraid of social rejection - and also willing to latch on to any fringe political or social movement that offers them a modicum of social meaning - in addition to being calloused to the emotional wellbeing of others - with no ability to form their own ideas or values - become a vocal majority in "real life?”
I mean, what’s the worst that could possibly happen?