In the movie, “The Social network” (2010), the character played by Justin Timberlake, Sean Parker, said, “We lived on farms, then we lived in cities, and now we’re going to live on the internet!” Recent news stories show us how dangerous “living on the Internet” can be and we need to view these stories as cautionary tales. But first, let’s take a look at the quote from the movie and parse it a bit. When we lived on farms, we got to know our neighbors personally (of course this is happening today as farms still exist (stuff does not grow on the shelves of the grocery store magically)). Living in cities we interact with other people, albeit not always in the best of forms, but we react with other humans and develop social skills. Finally, the “living on the internet” shows how misunderstood all of these living situations are. Here are a few of the problems with concept of living on the internet:
- The validation that you get in social gatherings does not exist online
- Behavior is dramatically different
With regards to validation, very recently we have had the Syrian Lesbian Blogger event; most unfortunately this tragic tale of the gay girl from Damascus was in fact written by an imposter who was an American man living in Scotland. What is comical is that people believed it to be true. While the concept of identifying yourself as someone you are not online may be quite familiar to anyone who has participated in online dating, this situation is harmful in new ways. The blogger misrepresenting his identity perpetrated a fraud that not only hurts the readers, but also the groups impacted by the consequences. Imagine the same blogger trying to fool the people on the farm or in the city? Frankly this fraud would be close to impossible.
With regards to behavior, people act differently online then they do offline, as a people, we give a voice online to those that normally would be rebuked in our farm or city, or worse. Imagine Congressman Weiner at a local party, going up to people to whom he had just been introduced, and handing out pictures of his underpants / other stuff. If he did this, we would not just throw him out of our house we might call the police. Or if you prefer consider the loudmouth person in a room that shouts to get his voice heard, (not referring to the congressman here), our reaction to this would be to tune them out promptly and they would have to find ways to change the unacceptable behavior or find a new city or farm on which to live. On the internet they do not have to change. Instead, they can continue to self-validate their ill-conceived behavior / topics. There is of course a darker side, think of a group of people fighting for independence in a nation, telling stories online of how they longed to be free after they just finished gang raping a reporter and right before they set off to burn some Christian churches. On our farm or in our city would we consider them heroes?
You cannot take a farmer and drop him in the city and say live, just as you cannot take a person from the city and drop them on the farm and expect them to survive. What we need is to understand that social rules that existed on the farm and in the city have brought the global community a bit closer. Having traveled the world extensively I can tell you that there are still farms everywhere, in fact, I have worked on them just to survive. I can also tell you that each city has a distinct and unique personality. It takes a village and validation to keep a conversation civil. When we come together in a group we can accomplish great things. Personally I believe we can do this because:
- We can sense the loudmouth person in the room
- We can spot the people that are not what they say they are
Moving from farms into the cities created a large majority of the population that probably could not feed themselves if they had to farm. If we are going to live on the internet in the future we will no doubt be in constant conflict as people will not learn how to behave in emotionless and faceless groups. As an Engineer I look at the internet as a tool rather than as a place to live. While the educational benefits of the internet, if validated, are huge, the social benefits or determents are not clear at this point.
More information about the Syrian blogger deception can be found at: http://online.wsj.com/article/SB10001424052702303848104576383861153713734.html
If you live in a vacuum and have somehow missed the news about Congressman Weiner you can learn more at: http://www.nydailynews.com/news/politics/2011/06/17/2011-06-17_day_after_rep_anthony_weiners_resignation_sexting_scandal_scarred_expolitician_s.html