The Internet: A Scary Place

© Ryan Biery

The working wonders of the internet. In this Information Age — a term coined by intellectual, Manuel Castells, on the behaviours of the modern, network society — there is a constant tug-of-war. This tug-of-war happens on a personal level, as well as a societal one. Wondering how and why? Well, just google it or you can keep reading…

Let’s start with the term “Google it”… this is a line that we are all too often familiar with. Sometimes we are so comfortable with this action that we forget to think for ourselves and lean on the interwebs and the algorithmic powers to inform of us what we need to know. Merging time/space into an instantly gratifying momentum of informational clarity. But how often is this clarity clouded my mindless assurance? This begs to question if our very our own media literacy keeps up with the technological advancements in this post-truth era?

when last did you have a riveting conversation at dinner without feeling the need to Instagram your food?

We have, for the most part, expanded our world knowledge and given democratic freedom for many people to speak their truths in a way that has never been seen before. With this concept of time/space merging, technology has helped us to completely eradicate geographical boundaries that have segregated people and nations, giving way for the rise of social activism and democratic freedom of speech. Looking at it from this perspective, we can say that it’s not all too bad, this coming together under an umbrella of unified thought.

As with many things in our lives though, our life situations can become encompassed in a sort of yin-and-yang dynamic. While we have reached a type of mobility in our thinking patterns through quasi-objects such as the smartphone, we have, at the same time, inhabited a reliance and an addiction to these objects. These addictions have forever altered how we communicate, there’s no denying it. When last did you have a riveting conversation at dinner without feeling the need to Instagram your food? When last have you even successfully managed to eat an entire meal without glancing at your cellular device?

Looking at the use of the internet from a quantitative and qualitative perspective, it’s easy to realise that nothing works in isolation. One can assume that the internet has created a sphere for many voiceless to obtain a voice, but it has brought with it racketeering of communication that has led us into a post-truth era of misinformation too. A good example of this is the rise of the right-wing through the help of algorithms and platforms such as YouTube, an appreciable story was done about this at The New York Times.

When considering how badly social media can affect us, some of us conclude that understanding how this democratic approach to civil content sharing influences the lives of people is not only important, but it has become necessary.

the internet has created a sphere for many voiceless to obtain a voice, but it has brought with it racketeering of communication that has led us into a post-truth era of misinformation too

The Guardian did a thorough report on how depression in girls is linked to higher usage of social media. The report showcases that the more time spent on social media, especially if it’s late at night, will lead (especially young women) to all-time lows. This is no surprise when an individual, wearing sweatpants and their oily hair wrapped around their face, is surfing the carefully curated pages of Instagram and comparing their own lives to the jet-setting influencers and their carefully curated content. Basically, at this moment, an individual naturally starts comparing their worst life to someone’s best life. Such comparisons can easily leave one feeling inadequate and wistful.

© 2016 Juppi Juppsen

While we surf the internet and obtain new knowledge through these carefully curated content pages, we also absorb information in a sphere that is produced and offered to us on a silver platter. This silver plate, while sparkling and fruitful, showcases hors d’oeuvres of an algorithmic-selection. The same algorithm which lingers with a taste of strongly-matured, mouldy cheese. A taste that’s not to everyone’s liking (or online persona in this case). Just look at Facebook & Google, and any other leading websites that we so frequently visit and click for our ad-blockers to turn on! These are the spaces where advertisements continue to disrupt our viewing pleasure, leaving a horrible taste in our virtual mouths.

Such a capitalist agenda has been pushed through major tech corporations in recent years, and whilst we are focusing on how to push ourselves out of the social media bubble of comparative depression, Google and Facebook have slithered in with their ‘searchable social network’ masks and force-fed us advertisements whilst we purge our information to marketers so that they can sell to us. A ‘bulimic effect’ of content exchanges. We give them our information so that we can further be compartmentalised online, as we so often are offline. Is this the price we pay for believing that published content on the internet should be free? Guess so…

are we actually keeping up to speed in understanding how technology is shaping our lives and the information we seek?

While we are working on curating our pages to show our best lives, we are selling parts of our worlds, our private lives, our personalities into the abyss of the internet. The Surveillance Economy is feeding into a business strategy where our information is being sold. Every single click, tap, like, profile lurk is given to companies and sold to advertisers to make you spend more money on more things that you don’t need nor want.

Not that important right? I mean, we’ve been seeing such communication strategies since the dawn of advertising in the Mad Men era, right? Wrong! These types of strategies affect how we view and access information and lead to phenomenons like The Filter Bubble Theory & Echo Chamber Effect. Nick Lum wrote a great piece on identifying the difference between the two phenomenons here, and it affects us as people, as a culture, and as a world.

living in this always-on culture has made us forget terms like ‘brb’. This is the internet, we live here now.

This begs to question, are we doing enough as a society in teaching people media literacy? The media industry is all too often scrutinized, especially since the rise of citizen journalism. Are we keeping up to speed in understanding how technology is shaping our lives and the information we seek? Are media gatekeepers allowing information to break out of these filter bubbles or echo chambers in a way that is constructive, informative and avoiding labels & stereotypes? And lastly, are developers and data experts aware of how the singularities in their technological-designs can affect, as well as make or break, cultural norms and people’s behaviours in this online society? Do ethics even exist in this capitalist virtual world?

This is the same virtual world that influences our real world. The real world where we are glued to our mobile telephones, listening to what we need to buy from people who ‘live for the likes’ and tell us we are beautiful… but more beautiful if we buy certain products through/from them. Well, this approach has left most of us feeling a bit anxious. Living in this always-on culture has made us forget terms like ‘brb’. This is the internet, we live here now.

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