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.