Anyone interested in collectively getting rid of the internet? Not gonna lie, I’m not really having high hopes for what it brings for the future of civilization. When we’re forced to stand in the open and physically hold ourselves in front of others, we feel compelled to be on our best behaviour. Our instincts to steal, undermine, shame, ostracize, manipulate, and think in groups are predominately put on shelves in the back of our brains.
The internet, on the other hand, enables us to lose our inhibitions. The societal repercussions are not non-existent, because the internet isn’t a harmless invention or a nontoxic outlet. Granted, the internet has its positive uses primarily when it comes to efficiency and communication, but those are arguably outweighed by the negative factors of the internet in regards to what it has done to us economically, politically, and socially.
Economically, the internet has made a name for itself by transforming the free market, although not necessarily in the direction of the better for the collective. The internet has allowed people to undermine business models, the legitimacy of certain industries, and steal simply because they can. In the process of doing this, we’ve allowed the let down of employment prospects in previously lucrative industries, and made it harder for the creative to establish a livelihood by capitalizing on their creativity in a homogenized sense that is both ideal and realistic. Thanks to the internet, the business models of retail stores have pretty well been undermined and are becoming a thing of the past. The replacement of physical stores by e-commerce giants like Amazon and eBay have diluted commerce squares and given people reasons not to go out and shop. Thanks to the internet, industries like journalism and law have been undermined by pseudo-professional alternatives. Thanks to streaming/pirating services, artists and entertainers now have a harder time making a living solely on their craft. The internet has essentially decentralized monetary platforms for the creative to capitalize. All in, from an economic standpoint, the internet has practically cheapened three major components of the free market by reducing their legitimacy.
Politically, the internet has confused us. When it comes to polarization, Facebook has without question been one of the greatest perpetrators as it can be easily manipulated and is perhaps the most common source of news on the planet. When it comes to showing how the sausage gets made, the internet has played a significant role in demonstrating how crooked politics can be. Groups like WikiLeaks and Anonymous stir outrage as internet provocateurs. When it comes to allowing foreign governments to undermine democracies, the internet is the greatest outlet. A great example of this would be the Kremlin’s interference in the 2016 U.S. presidential election by buying out online ads as hidden forms of propaganda. Needless to say, the internet has disrupted politics in ways the world has never had to deal with.
Socially, the internet has done us in. Hence explaining the social deficit it has left us to deal with. We may be more aware of one another’s lives than ever before, yet that doesn’t mean we’re as involved in one another’s lives as much as we should be. If anything, we’re less involved in one another’s lives. The internet has established a societal ripple effect of turning many of us into shut-ins and socially inept creatures. We’ve largely either grown over-aware or under-aware of ourselves by becoming repulsed by socialization and addicted to insulation. With social media, we justify reasons to no longer be social. With internet shaming, we no longer justify reasons to be civil toward other people we may see as doing wrong (whether or not we have evidence). With hashtags, we become overly tribal and think in groups. All of this has pretty well made us lonelier. Perhaps that explains why Britain has recently appointed a Minister of Loneliness as a call to this social crisis brought on by the internet. Don’t be surprised if more countries adopt similar measures. Moreover, don’t be surprised if this epidemic of loneliness continues to grow as long as the internet exists.
In sum, it’s safe to say the internet has brought on significant baggage for civilization to deal with without an owner’s manual. It would not be a stretch to assume that whatever major societal shift comes forward in the future will be brought on by the internet. Sure, the internet is likely the greatest tool ever invented. However, in regards to tools, it could probably be best compared to a double-edged sword. Great uses, great concerns.