The Internet Paradox

The Internet is a paradox. All technology is, but to keep from generalized statements – the Internet is a paradox. I’ve been told that any element’s strength is also its weakness, so I’m prepared to look through this at both angles.

1. The internet draws the world closer together. I have a friend at work who is able to communicate with his friends in Jordan through Skype. Like the Jetsons they can video chat from thousands of miles away. I know another couple who’s separated by leagues of ocean between the United States and the United Kingdom.

The paradox: The internet pushes away human interaction.Thirty years ago it was unheard of for psychologically healthy citizens to lock themselves up in a room alone for fifteen hours without physical human interaction … even without food – they would be called hermits. Some people have noticed this problem and created sites to help people regain their physical humanity through what’s called a meet-up.

2. The Internet drives the market towards greater global business opportunities. I have no idea how international business interactions took place before the Internet without plenty of money and an interpreter. Today I could open a web store, tie in a free interpreter and start selling product to Sweden in less than a week.

The Paradox: People have learned to be skeptical of businesses and the consumerist is actually empowered to drive the market down. Where the big business practice was to treat the customer as good as the cow, viral videos (such as “Supersize Me”) has provided a means by which businesses suffer consequences for their parasitic actions. This in turn backfires because big government, lobbied by these large businesses, create regulation that kills off all the smaller ones.

3. The Internet makes information more readily available. At no other time in history has there been such a wealth of information across the globe – readily available – instantly available.

The Paradox: Lies spread faster than truth. Pages like Snopes have become a mainstay and students who think Wikipedia has the same credability as the Encyclopedia Britannica are sadly mistaken.

4. The Internet is my friend. You meet people who are friendly, and you open up to them with your life story because of the anonymity you think it provides.

The Paradox: On the internet, nobody knows you’re a dog. Neither do you know if the person you’re talking to is one… or worse! Internet perverts and stalkers are literally out to get our children by the throat. The lure has never been so pervasive or perverted.

5. Internet based education! I can get my college degree in communications without leaving my home!

The Paradox: Think about it … a communications degree … without face-to-face physical interaction with your professor. Hope you can speak “woof” (see #4).

Don’t get me wrong. I love the internet and the wealth it provides – but something it can’t provide amidst all that knowledge is wisdom. And wisdom demands direct interaction between man and God – then with man and his fellow men. Noah, through his fear and respect of God’s authority, was obedient. The interaction he had with his family saved their lives as well. Noah didn’t build the ark completely by himself, either.

Our world is decaying in moral stature and compassion. In the 1920’s great depression, people housed strangers because they understood the power of many working as a unit. They struggled, but they made it through. Today, our mantra of looking out for “number one” drives people to desperation and daycare houses turn into meth labs. It’s no surprise that the sudden singleness and single-mindedness that the Internet meme has caused leads to people trying to find way to care for themselves without asking others for help … or just as bad … being denied help from others because everyone is so wrapped up in themselves to see the larger picture.

Just as much as the Internet represents one of the greatest feats of mankind – a modern day tower of Babel, it also represents one of the precursors to the greatest downfall of the human race.

Web 2.0 Culture and the Curse of the Turing Machine

Back at the beginning of 1995 I created a website named “Romantic Gestures”. The purpose was to draw people into a virtual community who wanted to share experiences and ideas with others about all things romantic. In that time I noticed that people are more open about giving personal details on the internet than they were in real life.

People who were only five years old around that time are now 18, and the internet isn’t the primarily-academic-coddle-baby it was back then. It stemmed beyond being a tool into being a full-blown culture. The Web 2.0 craze that took off about four years ago and introduced a level of creativity, open structure and more importantly, virtualized community-style culture. It’s this culture that changed the upcoming generation into something almost unnatural. People began to do everything online. It lacked physical, personal interaction.

Babies require a good deal of coddling. That touch builds a naturally emotional bond to others and forms as a sort of grafting into the world. Without touch, a baby’s will to live wanes and (s)he becomes failure to thrive.

Although online communities and groups are amazing and wonderful, I think they’ve become the backwash of their physical counterparts. People need physical interaction as much as the emotional and intellectual stimulus provided by the internet’s vast array of discussion groups and communities.

The future is in merging the two. Use Flickr to identify people in your area to meet with. Use Blogger to locate others nearby that you can karaoke with. There’s already a somewhat successful model that allows people to interact with one another – but their interface and navigation feels stale and cumbersome.

At least the frequent emails from meetup keep me abreast that there is a world out there where people meet – they have faces and feelings and can do amazing things without the internet. There is a sort of sick comfort in doing things alone, though. It’s selfish in a way. But having a spouse and children provides a life-giving feedback that my life is bigger than me and even bigger than the internet.