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philipookitupongoogle
May 18, 2014 | by  | in Features Homepage |
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Look (It) Up (on Google): In Defence of the Internet

“I have 422 friends – yet I’m lonely. I speak to all of them every day – yet none of them really know me.”

So begins the latest viral YouTube sensation, ‘Look Up’, which deplores how addicted to the internet we all are. Its central message seems to be that interactions on social media actually staunch human connection instead of facilitating them. I’m sure you’ve seen it by now, so I’ll open the question to the floor: how did you react when that smug-looking dude garbed in that hideous preppy mélange implored you to ‘look up’? You can infer that I found it galling as all fuck.

The message itself is nothing new. The ‘internet’ has been labelled the cause of all manner of social ills basically since its inception, with detractors claiming it fuels blindness, psychopathy, addiction, social isolation, anti-social behaviour, hairy palms; the whole shebang. This has been touched on by this magazine but to reiterate – phooey to that bollocks. These claims ignore the emancipatory possibilities the internet has to offer.

That said, there is something curiously persuasive about even the most trite of these critiques. When it first went viral, 12 of my Facebook friends, most of whom I respect heaps and are much smarter than myself, shared the video onto their timeline (yes, I’m aware of the irony). If I had to pin down why, I think it’s because this kind of rejection of technology is ingrained in our cultural psyche. Ascetics and Luddites have this hip allure about them; the dominant discourse around new technology is frequently mistrustful, or at least focusses on the problems without highlighting the cool shit it brings to the table.

It’s high time we turned the tables. Let’s look at the astounding things the internet has brought us, and what it’s going to bring us in the future. Keep Looking Down. Welcome to Cool Internet Shit.

A fairly obvious place to start when enthusing about da ‘net is about how it provides forums for people to meet like-minds that are not so easily discovered in real life. There are forums for trans* people by trans* people, forums for people who experiment with drugs, forums for people who collect dolls and McDonald’s toys. There are even social networks that were created in order that people could mingle with people who share the same carnal passions. FetLife.com is a social network that connects ‘kinksters’ with people both in their area and worldwide. It encourages you to make friends at your own pace, and provides a safe, friendly and – crucially – non-judgmental environment to meet others and explore yourself. The app ‘Grindr’ facilitates sexual encounters between gay males, minimising harm and awkwardness. Online dating long ago emerged from its beta stage, with people finding romance online. All of this is so commonplace now that this progress might strike you as banal. It really isn’t – just 20 years ago there were no forums, no circulation of information, personals in the paper were unvetted and risky; that our cultural landscape has changed so swiftly for the better is a testament to how fucking great the internet is, surely?

Human connection is being fostered among us normies, too. In a querulous, hilarious piece by Eleanor Margolis, she calls out the ‘Look Up’ video in gleefully edifying fashion: “At risk of coming over all greetings card-y myself,” she notes, “I’d quite like the Turk family to know that it’s the power of social media that allows me to watch my niece, who lives three thousand miles away, grow up.” The internet provides a medium where you can stay connected with your families and friends. You can sexy-skype lovers if all of y’all are willing. Combined with the above forums, you can meet and develop genuine – yes, genuine – relationships with people on the other side of the globe. Margolis says: “it was social media that provided me with my big fat lesbian family.” Friendship is a good thing; the internet enables friendship; Q.E.D., motherfuckers.

And then there’s the initiatives. Kickstarter got us new Veronica Mars, countless DIY records that couldn’t have been made without the internet (although I take your point that perhaps it’s the internet’s fault that bands have no money; not everything is cut-and-dry). Netflix got us new Arrested Development. In a meta turn of events, the crowd-funding initiative brought us the initiative of ‘Loomio’, which is an app that promises ‘collaborative decision-making’ by stimulating the proposal process. It works by easing your group through distinct stages of discussion. It could flop, sure. It could be revolutionary. Such is the plethora of innovation on display on the internet, intended to ease or better aspects of our lives, we’re swamped in it.

This is inestimably better than the opposite being true.

The great news is that it doesn’t stop here. We have swathes of things to look forward to. For a start, we are looking at an internet free of child pornography. Seriously. It is now nigh-on impossible to acquire on the mainstream internet, and recently, Tor’s ‘Hidden Wiki’ was hacked by an internet vigilante who stipulated that, upon returning it to its owner’s control, it was to be cleansed of all links to child pornography. This ballsy move effectively shut down a horde of disgusting websites (believe me, you haven’t experienced schadenfreude until you’ve seen an active pedophile complaining on reddit that they’ve had their habit forcibly curtailed), and authorities are now monitoring other ‘Deep Web’ sites and catching perpetrators by their hundreds, thereby staunching demand. Baller.

There is also more information being disseminated by the day. In France, internet access is no longer a luxury but a ‘human right’; this reflects the internet’s emergence from a recreational device to an integral tool in educational, economic and social betterment, and this trend is, according to researchers, set to continue. Moreover, the internet is becoming more accessible. There are systems being designed and trialled for those with physical and intellectual disabilities that ensures they achieve an equal playing-field, and user-friendly devices; and for socially and economically disadvantaged groups, the internet has the capacity to be a godsend.

More people than ever are using the internet. Even in Africa, a continent on the wrong end of the ‘digital divide’, internet usage has quadrupled in the past seven years and is only accelerating, according to forecasters. Shit, so many people are using it that it may even render personal automobiles obsolete. The company ‘Uber’, which has just been snaffled up by Google for a tidy sum, offers personalised door-to-door public transport which works on an on-call basis – much like taxis, only computerised and much, much cheaper. Not quite what Back to the Future Part II envisioned, sure, but pretty sweet nonetheless.

The internet is only getting better; now would be a good time to look up (at its glory).

 

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