Friday, November 28, 2008

The Impact of the Internet

This story, which has been resting on the back burner in the attention of the public and the media, shows how intense a force the internet can be. Particularly it reveals how much of an addictive social outlet cyberspace is and how it creates a vast emotional response in those who use it. Most people who I count among my blogging friends are a generation or so older than me but even so they too know both the numerous positive factors and numerous negative factors that go hand in hand with an active social life online. I'm largely familiar with the interface between 21st century technology and human emotions since I have had many experiences and much experience perusing this juxtaposition in depth. The advent of bloggers and blogging is just another continuation in a phenomenon I've been accustomed to for a decade and a half.

The internet since its inception has become a forum for bored, lonely teenagers and now everyone sees just how easily the medium can be exploited for hurtful intentions. It's easy to be condemnatory of the woman who tormented this poor girl and drove her to suicide without fully understanding the context. I admit freely that ten or fifteen years removed I might have been a victim myself. My saving grace was that in those days, so-called adults weren't as aware of the vast scope of technology and additionally the social networking sites like MySpace and Facebook that are ubiquitious now simply didn't exist then. When I was cyberbullied (and it did occasionally occur) it was by people in my own age group. My parents simply weren't aware of what a world unto itself the internet can be. I'd rather not go into a litany of cruelty here---suffice to say I was periodically treated pretty nastily by anonymous strangers.

For many years I was homebound and either too sick to travel out of the house or too fearful of social interaction in general due to an anxiety disorder. The internet was my solace, though it often times was a source of torment and pain. All of the cruelty that exists in human nature shines through in personal contact over the internet, and if anything, the de-personalization and relative anonymity mean that people can be much crueler and much harsher to others then they'd ever dare to be in person. I'm not sure what that says about us, that we're so cowardly and non-confrontational that our evil side shows most plainly when we can hide our true identities and not have to face the people we hurt or insult.

As I said, I was a teenager when the internet came to prominence. Though it would be years before an effective high-speed internet access point would be invented and then made cheap enough for the average person to afford, the technical limitations of the medium didn't prevent me from making lots of friends. Even to this day, I still maintain a few close friendships with people I met online and I've even met face to face with several of them. Though I don't often speak about this element of it, I admit as well that I found several sexual partners online, too. Sex was never my intent up front, but combine two people desperate for companionship and lacking in social skills with a mutual attraction for each other and this sort of thing is bound to transpire. I also admit that I took some risks and wasn't as cautious, nor as careful as I probably should have been in those days.

For a generation of socially awkward teenagers the internet provided us with a world of like-minded peers. It expanded my horizons and gave me an expansive view of the world that many people would never achieve within their lifetime. At seventeen, I had accumulated so much knowledge from all of my contacts then many people would realize at age forty or fifty. In that regard, the internet was very helpful. And in that spirit, the fellow bloggers whose sites I visit on a nearly daily basis give me insight that in another age to which I would never be privy. Thanks to those online friends who enrich my life and also, may I be careful to avoid those unfortunate creatures whose only desire is to bring others down to make themselves feel better.


Gail said...

Hi Kevin-

Very well stated. I so agree with every word you wrote. I got 'bullied' by a group of loyal bloggers and it was awful. Also, a blogger troll found it's way to my site and was very mean and threatening. That is when I switched to 'moderating comments'. For the most part, my experiences have been wonderful. I learn so much from so many sources.

Have a wonderful weekend.


Fran said...

Oh what a good post- very thought provoking. And true.

Even at my advanced age - me being a generation ahead as you know, I have had online issues.

While I am not easily bullied, I have one blogger in particular that I find a bully and we are no longer connected.

The odd thing is that my sitemeter lets me know that he comes to my blog every day and I have seen him move on to and then comment on blogs that I have linked to.

I never go to his blog however. What would be the point?

In any case, I think that a real issue to be concerned about for younger people is the power of it all. It seems so real to them - I can see that in my 12 y.o. stepdaughter, but it is not.

The story that you link to, one that I have read before, breaks my heart.

Thank you for this Kevin and thank you for your wisdom.

Utah Savage said...

I only started blogging a little less than a year ago. Prior to that the internet was my enemy. I did not understand how to navigate it, and really, all I wanted was word processor to write my fiction on. But through email letter writing with an old friend, I was but in touch with an IT friend and former student of his, living in San Francisco. This new friend changed my life in a way I am just beginning to understand.

My mental illness has turned me into a recluse. I have four female friends who I see occasionally, and always at my house, so I won't have to leave. It seems so selfish that I refuse to budge to visit a friend, but it's the best I can do. With the very best psychiatric support system this is the best I can do. But I have been ill so much longer than you, and time does finally take it's tole.

But now, since I spent the very last penny I had in my savings, I have a 10 month old IMac, loaded with goodies and the prodding to begin to post. My friend, Phillip, my IT guru and blog administrator (sitenoise) has made a new world of other voices available. I suspect my "real writing" has suffered. Since I get so little feedback on it, whereas the no the blog, few are too put off to leave a few words. At first all I wrote about was politics and gender politics. Phillip thought I was and astoundingly good writer and predicted that I would rise quickly as a blogger. I had no idea really what he was talking about, because I didn't know anything about the network of other bloggers. And then people started commenting. He taught me to do a simple link and I began to get a blog roll. And as my popularity began to climb, Phillip thought my writing suffered. Now I was playing games, like the meme thing, and talking about my very personal life in a too chatty way. But oddly I began to feel I had friends out there. hard to give up friends.

I have attracted my share of unpleasant commenters but have learned to quickly shit can them. That is after all what the little trash can is for is it not. Trolls get dumped, anonymous commenters almost always get canned. So I feel no need to moderate comments or even have a word verification thingy, since I have a good program that watches for spam and such. But no one has ever bullied me on line. I think I might even enjoy taking on a bully. I learned a few vicious tricks of the verbal sort to do a battle of wits--it was one of my mother's favorite games. Poke the bully and then take him on in a public verbal battle of wits. Makes for a very satisfying spectacle, if you go in for that sort of thing.

Today I'm having a bit of a melt down. Property taxes are due today, and of course, I don't have the money. The paperwork and documentation they require for a low-income break on taxes is of the sort my brain can not follow. Too complicated, to many places to search, too many copies to be made. And yet year after year I have qualified, but have been unable to provide the documentation.

Thanksgiving was sad. It usually is, since it is the kick off to the official holiday season, which I have hated since I was quite young. So the challenge for me now will be to keep myself from going under with a full-blown thumb-sucking down and out depression.

Sorry for this comment that is all about me. I hope your thanksgiving wasn't as dreary as mine. I'm glad you're being monitored this season. isn't this a hard time of year for you too?

Comrade Kevin said...


I'm sorry to hear about your struggles. I'd come over to talk to you, for sure.

The holiday season can be difficult since I was forced as a child to endure Thanksgiving and Christmas dinner at my uncle's house. My mom's family is crazy, but they deny their craziness by simply drinking their cares away. I've never felt comfortable in a Graves family gathering since there's nothing resembling holiday cheer or love on display.

Now that I'll be away from the nuclear family for both Thanksgiving and Christmas, I'm a little sad, though mostly because my mother is such a total romantic/emotionally overwrought parent that she cries her eyes out if even one of her children is not present.

So yes, I do understand where you are coming from and I wish you the best.

Take care, friend.

darkblack said...

Well said. Indeed, the capricious nature of human emotions, filtered through the reduction of concern for the feelings of others fostered by the anonymity of the Internet has been a topic of interest for me also.

Sadly, IMO the maturation of the collective psyche has not yet reached a point where respect and acceptance for the individual, even in a relatively risk-free exchange, has caught up to the technological capacity available...Like neanderthals manning the launch desk at Cape Canaveral, it is truly a miraculous wonder that anything of import gets through.


Alicia Morgan said...

CK - the Internet has really broadened the world for me. It enabled me to connect to people who share my interests who I would have no chance of meeting in my meat-life because my social life is pretty much limited to work and family, and made me into a writer, which I had never been before. And, yes, I've been trolled - it sucks.

I tend to choose to engage with positive people and don't feel as if I must tolerate haters and fools, so they are not allowed on my site. Blogging does not mean 'anything goes', at least not at Hooterville! No one has the right to harass me or anyone else on my wn home turf.

I understand how easy it is to be cruel and vicious when you can disguise your identity, so the haterade is not served in my home.

I love that I can meet so many cool, smart and interesting people online. Plus, I'm still a step or so ahead of my kids computer-wise, and that helps me to be aware of what's going on with them.

Anonymous said...

Two interesting cases of "Internet institutions" come to mind because of your post.

One is the Green Party of the United States, which does almost all its business online. It's a nightmare. The internet allows people to indulge their worst impulses, doing the equivalent of jumping onto a conference table and screaming. This being the internet, there are no consequences. And of course no meaningful work gets done.

On the other hand there's Wikipedia. It throws its doors wide open to the world, and yes, it's regularly the target of bored schoolkids who think it's hilarious to write the word "poop" on a web page. And yet this cyber-graffiti usually doesn't last long. There's a thriving, very busy community at Wikipedia that gets a lot of useful work done, although by its nature the work is never any closer to being "finished." The culture promotes patience and teaching to a remarkable degree. Wikipedia as a social phenomenon is something new, and I think it begins to teach us how to treat each other well in this new medium.

I'm on the lookout for other positive online cultures. Human cultures, in other words.