The Internet will banish evil the world over. Slowly, but surely, it will march along and destroy the evil behaviors of corporations, organizations, governments and even individuals. The Internet saves all.
What am I babbling about? Connection & Emotion. At its most basic level, the Internet connects– connects you to news, weather, reference articles and most importantly, people. We connect through e-mail, myspace, instant messenger, google, flickr, blogs, etc. Connections matter because they have meaning. We care about the things that make us happy and love the most. The reason we care about them is because they have some real connection to our lives. That connection equals emotion.
But today we are without. Today, we’re stuck with facts and black & white. Today, the primary method of good-doing (and ergo, evil-ridding) happens through simple education. Education happens through TV, magazines, newspapers, and now the Internet. So here’s an article that made the rounds a few weeks back. A 41 square mile ice shelf broke off in the Canadian Arctic. That’s not a typo, a chunk of ice bigger than Manhattan. This story captivated public interest and spurred climate-change discussion. So, yeah, you see how it works today…people read this, get educated and than maybe actually change something. Yawn, right?
But the Internet will actually change the world because it will bring human emotion and value to life. That news article was very educational and interesting. But it was cold. Sterile. Detached. Now imagine if you could hear directly from someone who has visited that area a number of times. Who maybe lives close by– someone who has an emotional connection. Would reading the blog entry of someone who is actually harmed by the ice shelf breaking, move you more? Would it change this from a discussion about numbers, possibility and politics and make it a human discussion? If other people posted their personal pictures that really struck/shocked them: of bears drowning or cherry blossoms in NY blooming in winter, etc on Flickr– would that connect with you more?
Now, let’s take it up a notch:
A soldier dies in war. After Vietnam, our government learned that there is nothing that will so quickly turn the tide of public sentiment against a military action as the sight of dead and wounded American soldiers. Now imagine a myspace page of a fallen solider that is kept alive with comments by friends and family about his/her life. Think this keeps the very real human cost of war front and center in Americans’ minds? Imagine if a deeply unhappy solider in Iraq stationed in Iraq was so distraught he committed suicide. We’ve become desensitized to this, right? It might be just another page 10 article in the newspaper to us. But what if he posted his suicide note on MySpace first. Do you think that might strike a chord with the American people more than an article discussing solider disgruntlement or a report on the latest death toll?
Can you imagine reading a daily account of the impact of pollution from a local corporation on the residents of a community? What if someone posted pictures of chemicals flowing into the river with a neighborhood boy playing alongside it? Smog and pollution hanging overhead while children waited at a bus stop? What if every week there was a story about a child who was harmed by this pollution. Oh, and how about a picture of the child grappling with his illness in the blog entry with a link back to a complete photo album of the child’s life on flickr? Does that make it real?
There’s also the byproduct that all of this connectedness brings: transparency. What impact on our predisposition for doing evil or other assorted ill-advised tasks does this visibility have? As we become more and more connected through social networks, etc, we remove the barriers between our distinct groups. For example, say I have a “work Surya”, “social in Cincinnati Surya”, and “New Jersey Surya”. They each encompass the different relationships with people I’ve formed in these groups, and my behavior when I’m in those contexts. An effect of social networks such as myspace, and facebook is to eliminate the barriers between these “different worlds.” How many of your bosses are on myspace? And what would you do if you got an invitation from them to be added as a friend?. Through reading your away message on Instant Messenger, your friends’ comments on your myspace page, your/your friends blogs, etc, almost anyone can know where you are and what you’ve been up to. And if you do something evil, malicious, stupid, funny, or whatever with people from one group– it’s become fairly easy for that information to get around to almost every single person you know.
Do you think the very real threat of being exposed for whatever your evil sin is would impact whether you actually did it or not? It’s the age old question of “If you could do anything in the world, and know you wouldn’t get caught, what would you do?” on steroids. The question in real life becomes: “What would you immediately stop doing if you knew everyone would find out?”
Now to bring it all home: Imagine for a second your neighbor’s son had a terrible disability. Now imagine that it’s election day and there is a referendum on increasing taxes to fund services that would benefit children with disabilities. Having seen your neighbor struggle and deal with their circumstance, one is far more likely to empathize and see that extra funding as well worth it versus a waste of money. That’s what the Internet does– it enables that same connection and even empathy, regardless of distance and location. The whole world is your neighbor now.
There are two points:
1) we’re less likely to do ill towards our neighbor if we’re more likely to get “caught.”
2) we’re also less likely to even want to do bad upon our neighbor if we actually care for them.
Both are enabled by the Internet.
So maybe ridding the world of evil is hyperbole. Undoubtedly though, the Internet is, and will, engender a massive amount of empathy and understanding to things and conditions previously ignored or invisible. And, really, how many of the evil acts in our lives would not have happened if we had a little more empathy? If we were pretty sure that what we did would be exposed to everyone? If we could no longer think of our victims as nameless and faceless?
2/15/13 – First, I’m again struck by the formalness of my writing. I wonder how many edits this went through. Interesting that I forsaw the “what happens to the deceased on social network” question six years ago. It’s a big deal. Also, the notion of transparency making us be better people and more real was prescient because it’s almost exactly what Zuck harped on in explaining FB privacy policies. Overall, I don’t disagree w/anything I wrote. But I also think it’s a reflection of my naïveté. I’m still naive, but not quite so much. Transparency and being closer together can help improve things, but it turns out we spend way more time on TMZ and Khardasian Twitter.
I don't believe the global warming hype, and I support the ongoing war against terrorism, but I do believe you have a great point about the Internet and its power to vanquish various evils via greater information sharing.
I agree that much evil is perpetrated by those who seek to control information and stifle dissent, and that the Internet is slowly but surely making sure that can't happen. You mention corporations and governments, but it's happening with institutions as well.
Consider the institution of the media and information control. We needn't talk about Orwell, Stalin and the USSR to make this point. Let's stay in the good ol' US of A and talk about the mainstream media's monopoly on information. Just a short while ago, we had to rely on left-leaning media elites for all of our information. If it wasn't printed in the newspaper or shown on one of the major networks, we had no way of knowing about it. No longer. The Internet has taken the power away from the elites and distributed it among the common people (e.g. bloggers). They can no longer present their bias as fact and get away with it (for long).
Or what about the institution of science and the stifling of dissent? Today we have a new term: "consensus science." What this means is that if you subscribe to the politically correct scientific theory du jour (e.g. global warming catastrophe theory), you get grants and your work gets published. If you don't, you're starved of grants and marginalized. This is a great evil because science was always the refuge of dissenters (think Galileo), and now it has become the enemy of dissent. As Michael Crichton has pointed out, "There is no such thing as consensus science. If it's consensus, it isn't science. If it's science, it isn't consensus. Period."
Thankfully, the Internet is already beginning to defeat this great evil. Information sharing has exposed several of the leading journals, showing that they are quite capable of publishing junk science (Google "Hwang Woo-suk"). And it is also spreading dissent that would otherwise be silenced. For example, if not for the Internet I would never have known about the deep flaws in the infamous 'hockey stick' diagram used to "prove" global warming catastrophe theory, and I would never have read a speech Mr. Crichton gave at the California Institute of Technology in 2003 that pretty much destroys the major arguments of the global warming alarmists (Google "Aliens Cause Global Warming" and you can read it, too).
To listen to the institutions of the media and PC science, you would think there was no serious debate about the validity of global warming claims. You'd think a huge ice shelf breaking off into the ocean could actually be caused by human carbon emissions. But thanks to the Internet, you can be rescued from your ignorance and know the truth. (OK, low blow.)
One reason is that the Internet helps us remember history, so we can learn from it. In the 1970s, scientists were concerned that the earth was heading for an imminent Ice Age. It was a scientific consensus: The earth was getting colder, and we were in big trouble. Today, it's the opposite, but few people can point this out because those prior claims are down the memory hole. But not with the Internet! Its memory never fails. Some of those 1970s articles are still online if you look for them, rather than buried somewhere in a dusty library. And with guys like Google scanning whole libraries, it won't be long before even the dustiest of those old articles are available on the Internet, too.
Anyway, let me end this little rant by saying that perhaps our interpretations of evil are different, but I agree with your central thesis wholeheartedly. The Internet is my hero, too!
Thanks for the comment, Jordan. I actually completely agree with you. While I intentionally did not comment on my view of climate change or the war in Iraq– I see your point. Your post is incredibly insightful (and like your view of mine, regardless of examples– I love the thesis) and we're in agreement on the important point: information now flows free. This benefits all, and most importantly, this benefits the "truth." The Internet will allow me to read more about the points you raise and potentially offer a change of heart where we disagree. It's all about the "best" idea and theories winning, right? Thanks again for the amazing comment– you should take over this blog!
Jordan, To build on your earlier comment as well– replace "evil" in my post with maliciousness and deception. As you say, and as I discuss in my last post, the Internet disintermediates and puts the power in the hands of the people. This should help quell malicious deception of the masses by hiding information. Whether that's deception on the part of the "liberal media" as you called it for only releasing information they agree with, the deception of stifling the human face of war, or hiding the human cost of organizational wrongdoing, etc– the Internet will help reveal this.
If while rationale gets us to a point of view, potentially seeing the human side of some issues might get us to reconsider and look at the other point of view with, for the first time, and open mind. That's powerful stuff. This applies even to your example of debunking climate change (which I think you figured out, I do believe is happening): what if someone blogged about how their dad lost his job because of "alarmist" climate change people who pressured regulators until they closed his factory? He could blog about how they're almost losing their house, how the lay-off has strained his parents marriage and they're fighting almost daily and how he now questions whether or not he will be able to attend college or will be forced to try and support the family. He might also blog passionately about the facts on why climate change is false (which I, again, think are misguided). But I know that would give me pause, and say "what if he's right?" because I've emotionally connected with him, and I'd allow the facts a chance to change my mind. That's powerful! Given how broad and nebulous a term "evil" is– we probably both agree it's somewhere along the lines of willful deceit and knowing harm. The Internet helps exposes that and win converts.
Provocative thought, but here's a counter-punch to consider: is there a point at which the emotion-laced web touchpoints actually starts to dulls or softens our connections or feelings of intimacy with big events, news, or issues. Put another way, to borrow brand-marketing parlance, is there a "wear-out" factor. My guess is that we're not going to know the answer for quite some time. As a CGM enthusiast, I'm the first to acknowledge the "wow" factor with which new and compelling news flies from one consumer to the next across the web. But how many times will it work in succession? What's the right balance between novelty and sustained interest?
Pete, great point. Your point about whether this could be "information overload" really resonates. Will all of this emotion really diminish our ability to feel in our everyday lives? Will it diminish our ability to feel empathy for our neighbor because we're inundated with so much emotion the web. You've got me thinking!
To your other point: I assert that today what gets a lot of attention doesn't have to be of a very high quality. For example, on YouTube, (ignoring the bazaillion copyright infringing pieces) a lot of the very early on stuff was pretty terrible. But stuff like LonelyGirl evolved of an obviously higher production quality, and really took off. Sure there were other factors, but I feel like the point holds. The stuff that is really high quality will still stand out, and we'll likely become desensitized to the rest. For example, I see you have a blog about your twins (dosbebes.com). Maybe this would still connect with people 10 years from now because you do a great job with photos and videos, but someone who is just posting a random sentence or two is "worn out" and tuned out.
Today, it's all novel– tomorrow what gets sustained interest is the "great." Thanks for taking the time to comment!
Great post Surya. I tend to be an optimist as well about how the Internet–from Myspace to nytimes.com to flickr to YouTube–is socially beneficial. Remember Robert Putnam's "Bowling Alone" thesis from the late-90s? You know, how American civil society is breaking down because Americans tend to be less involved in civic and recreational organizations? I believe Americans tend to have more limited time and energy than ever to go out and about with groups to engage in their passions when our commutes, work hours, and family obligations are enormous. Thankfully though, numerous websites certainly fill a void for millions (billions?) to lessen the disconnected feeling and engage with others around the world without having to leave home. It's like the opening lyrics to the Beatles' "The Inner Light": "Without going out of my door, I can know all things on Earth…"
Surya, once upon a time, I too felt the impact of internet growth and sure, I too once believed in its salubrious effects. However, I now believe that the growth of Internet has transformed our world into a high school social scene. Really, think about it. Consider, for example, the favorite high school activity, gossip. With the amount of unfiltered information on the web, we must question ourselves, what happens when slander becomes truth with the help of popular opinion. As of today, according to the United States of Europe, a well-renowned book on America and the new Europe, most Americans believe in non-evolutionary origins of man and in absence of global warming. Even as a majority of our specialized and knowledgeable scientists stand against these untruths, half-baked internet articles and self-proclaimed specialist gurus publish maliciously false and untrue articles on the web and pass them on as true. As a result, a critical mass of population, due to their preconceived mindset, has come to believe these lies and by now, these untruths have gained legitimacy that they never should have had. Furthermore, the liberals can be accused of the same crime. To further advance their Utopian nonsense, the liberals have advocated minimum wage laws and rent controls in large urban centers. According to most polls, 92% of economists agree that minimum wage laws decrease employment in the long run. Furthermore, above 80% of them agree that rent controls cause a deterioration of living conditions in the urban areas. Yet, liberals, in their indubitably intelligent manner, have spread propaganda claiming that a minimum wage raises standards of living for the poor while purposefully hiding its deleterious effects. In short, although the internet could have been a very useful global medium, we the humans have filled it with trash and caused it to become a landfill with only a few hidden diamonds. Sure, the internet will grow but unfortunately, because it was not pruned at a young age, it will now become a weed and cover the flower of knowledge. Just like nuclear technology, which could have been used to power the entire world, we have misused technology yet again. Let us hope that our next greatest idea will not be corrupted by our own misuse.
Ravi, I agree that there is a lot of mis-information (and of that, much intentionally so) out there. But I believe that the negative effects of this are easily outweighed by the positive benefits of open flow of information and access. There is an amazing amount of useful (and accurate) information out there just waiting to be discovered. Let's talk Wikipedia– sure everyone knows (and brings up) the example of a few prominent figures having false information about them on the site, but by and large the site is amazingly accurate and useful. I use it almost daily and have learned a tremendous amount about so many obscure subjects. I do not share your view that the Internet has been corrupted by it's own misuse– is it perfect? No, definitely not. An amazing asset? Absolutely. But I very much appreciated and welcomed your insight and comment. I hope to continue to get your thoughts on entries! surya
Joel, I love your Beatles quote– I wish I had started the blog entry with that! thanks for the comment. surya
Every technological innovation since the Semaphore (and probably even earlier things like verbal communication) has been hailed, by those who witnessed its introduction, to end all evil/wars/etc. and the reason cited has always been the same as what you state: it will bring us closer to our neighbor. What you need to add to your picture is that most of this technology was developed to enable better warfare; semaphores allowed soldiers to relay information over great distance, faster than a horse and rider, the telegraph did as well, then the telephone, then the radio, television (wooo pictures), darpanet -> internet, and soon whatever's next.
Net: Don't get your hopes up.
Andy– thanks for commenting, but I think you're way off base. Or maybe you were just trying to be controversial. Regardless of the original design of something, what it ends up doing stands on it's own. If the cure for AIDS came out of engineering a chemical weapon, would you refuse to take it and say it's a bad thing? Really? And that's accepting the premise of your statement that all innovation created for "warfare" is a bad thing.
To be clear, my point is not that military innovations finding use in civilian life is not a bad thing. In fact, if it keeps my *ss safer at night, cures my illnesses, or lets me complete surveys for free iPods: I'm all for it. I was merely pointing out the irony that technology designed to do violence more effectively always get's hailed by the naive as the way to end violence. That's beside the point.
What you missed in my comment is that technological innovations going back hundreds of years have been hailed as the end-all, be-all cure to evil/wars/world hunger/etc. Evil is still here. To believe technology can enable the end of all evil is naive. Period.
Let's put a pin in this one for 30 years; the internet will be a technology relic, the latest and greatest new technology is coming out, evil is still around, and our kids/grandkids will think all evil in the world will be vanquished by the latest innovation.
Andy, thanks for the conversation! I did catch your point on things always claiming to end evil. It's fair– but I think you misread my entry. I'm clearly being sensational (or that was my intent anyway– sorry for any confusion): I get that nothing will ever -end- evil. I merely believe this will go a long way to helping breed understanding, empathy and share knowledge among our fellow man. That's a good thing. I do think TV, etc has done some of that over the years. Being able to see the starving kids dying in africa from malaria, etc has definitely affected me, my giving and my worldviews. I think this takes that empathy and awareness to another level. That's merely my point. Might this help with that and another "evil" rise up to replace it? possibly. thanks again for the engagement! surya
You must also keep in mind, the Internet also encourages evil. People can be anyone they want on the Internet. I'm a math-loving nerd at school, but on the Internet I'm friends with the popular kids. I can be whoever I want to be on the Internet. This goes for everyone, so you never really know who someone is. This becomes very important when it comes to Internet predators. If the world, especially in the US, is addicted to the Internet, as much of the teenage population is, we tend to forget that if someone says they are Soandso Whatshisface and lives in New York, they could really be someone else and live somewhere else. There really isn't a way to know for sure who you're talking to and if you can really trust them with personal information. Other than that, I do agree. The Internet is an amazing thing. You can use it for anything your heart desires and it makes things so much easier in our everyday lives.