The internet’s great. From cat gifs to revolutionary politics, there’s truly something for everyone online.
But while there’s a lot to be said for the internet’s virtues, it is also worth remembering that technology is simply a tool to be wielded – sometimes making the world better, and sometimes, making it worse.
1. News. As newspapers have moved online and the notion of traditional print deadlines has been replaced with “real time” content, journalists are now expected to churn out multiple stories a day. The result has been a desperate scrabble for content, with limited room for fact-checking, an over-reliance on press releases, and a general race-to-the-bottom in terms of both quality and clickbait shock value.
2. Thinking. In a society where everyone shares everything instantly, the opportunities for people to stop and think are becoming ever fewer and farther between. Where once people would have taken time to assess their ideas before sharing, now they can’t wait to shout their ill-thought-out opinions into the ether forever. The result is an internet brimming with sweary rants, factually-inept blogs, and poorly-formed ideas that wilt when exposed to even the slightest academic scrutiny.
3. Sex. Following the explosion of hardcore pornography online, a new generation of teenagers has grown up with entirely new – and often entirely unrealistic – expectations for sex. Having developed into adolescence with one-click access to sexual violence, fetishism, and LOLporn scatology, is it any wonder that the emotional implications of sex have become so skewed? Given the endless variety of sexual experiences offered online, is it also any wonder why a whole new generation of “herbivore” men have given up on sex entirely?
4. Being Funny. Thanks to the advent of meme culture, now anyone can be funny online. By providing catchphrases and pre-made punchlines for social situations, meme culture has provided a set formula for humor. Say for instance someone has rapidly lost their temper. By simply adding the phrase, “Well, that escalated quickly,” anyone can become instantly hilarious. This has resulted in a new kind of ready meal comedy online – a mass produced, lukewarm lasagne of hilarity — readily available but with no real sustenance or nutrition.
5. Patience. In an age of constant communication and instant gratification, the notion of working hard to achieve something is slowly being programmed out. Everything should be on-tap, on-demand, and around the clock. Unfortunately the real world rarely works like that, leaving many “digital natives” depressed and dissatisfied with the hard-nosed facts of the offline world.
6. Relationships. By converting people into a series of online profiles, internet dating has helped to turn the process of relationship forming – possibly even love itself – into an algorithmic formula. Unable to account for the possibility that sharing the same likes/browsing history doesn’t make you soulmates, sites like Match.com and eHarmony encourage people to stick to “their own kind,” forging relationships based on little more than a list of dropdown options. For the younger generation, apps like Tinder convert dating into a human meat market, with individuals being boiled down, objectified, and ultimately swiped aside on a whim.
7. Serendipity. As with our relationships, internet technologies are helping to ensure that all aspects of life are boiled down to a series of algorithmic tickboxes. Through suggested listening, recommended reading lists, and even algorithm-based dating sites we have become trapped in an echo chamber of our own making, missing out on the opportunity to stumble upon something completely new.
8. Changing your mind. Having committed our every thought, notion, and opinion to social media, it grows increasingly difficult to reassess and alter our opinions. Having written that political rant back in early 2016, it seems so much harder now to change our minds. Nobody likes to look like a flip-flopper, and the pressure of all those blogs, Facebook posts, and aggressive tweets is making it so much more difficult to go back on our word.
9. Equality. Where once the internet was held up as an equalizing force, providing everyone with a voice online, today it has done more to divide our society than any other so-called “connecting” technology. By slashing jobs and centralizing wealth, the digital economy has helped to divide the world into thousands of minimum wage, zero-hour workers and a small handful of Silicon Valley billionaires. As digital services such as Uber, Airbnb and Deliveroo thrive, this problem is only set to get worse.
10. Politics. Following the Arab Spring, political pundits around the world were quick to declare the internet the driving force behind political change in the Middle East. Technologists such as Mark Zuckerberg, as well as politicians such as Gordon Brown, have since proclaimed the value of internet technologies in overthrowing dictators and allowing democracy to flourish. Of course, we now know that this simple isn’t true. From hacked elections to fake news, digital censorship, to mass surveillance, internet technologies have proved just as powerful in the hands of dictators as they have in the hands of the oppressed.
11. Professionalism. If there’s one thing the internet hates, it’s the idea of a “professional class.” The rhetoric of Silicon Valley has always told us that, with the right tools, anyone can do anything they want. Want to be a journalist? Start a blog. Want to be an author? Use a self-publishing platform. Want to be a musician? Upload your music to Spotify. Want to be a mechanic? Watch some YouTube tutorials.
This mindset of shortcuts and quick fixes has created a complete disregard for professional values, and for the notion that spending time developing a genuine skill is worthwhile. The result has been what entrepreneur Andrew Keen calls the “cult of the amateur” – the loss of highly-qualified professionals in exchange for an army of self-taught amateurs.
12. Choice. One of the biggest problems facing the modern internet is information overload. When faced with an over-abundance of choice, numerous psychological studies have shown that consumers start to panic, closing off options to simplify the decision-making process. As such, when faced with thousands of potential information sources, internet users increasingly close down their options, returning to the exact same two or three sites for all their information, opinions, and news. The result is an illusion of choice, in which consumers have endless options, but never deviate from their own small circle of sources and views.
13. Friendship. In the age of Facebook, Skype, and near-constant communication, you could be forgiven for thinking that our ability to form and maintain friendships is stronger than ever before. But have sites such as Facebook really provided us with more friends, or have they simply redefined what it means to be “friends” with someone? By accepting the notion that friendships can be built or maintained without any real physical interaction, we lower our expectations and weaken the concept of friendship for future generations.
14. Personality. Back in the early 2000s, the internet celebrated personality differences with a plethora of hideous blogs, gaudy Myspace pages, and revolting GeoCities pages allowing users to express themselves online in whatever way they saw fit.
Now, as we move into the golden age of social media, standardisation has taken over. People are flattened into personas and profiles, selecting their unique personality traits from a blue and white dropdown list. Being a unique individual doesn’t fit the new model, individuality is difficult to quantify and therefore difficult to sell to advertisers. Nobody wants to buy a messy real-life person.
15. Attention spans. As information abundance, clickbait journalism, and the so-called attention economy have helped to shorten our attention spans we increasingly find ourselves unable to focus on any one thing. We flit from screen-to-screen, reading contextless listicles about the internet’s failings rather than going out and buying the actual book that they’re taken from. The more our attention spans falter, the more difficult it becomes to truly understand the world around us.