Everything You Don’t Know Is Wrong – Part 1
In 1996, just before Vodka Red Bull was discovered, a friend of mine was delivering a speech about the impact of technology on society. He focused primarily on the internet because, as a geek, he knew about the internet; he even used it. At that time, most people didn’t surf the web, download, social network etc. Largely because dial-up was so tedious and costly but partly through fear of the unknown. My chum was the vanguard, the space cadet who was pointing the way to the future, and he made a very wise observation which has stuck with me ever since. (Before you all write in to complain, by the way, I’m sure plenty of other people have come to the same realisation independently.)
“Technology – the internet,” he declaimed impressively, “is neither good nor bad. Morally it is neutral. However, it acts like a powerful magnifier for anything focused through it, allowing anybody’s views, attitudes, loves, and hates to be seen (potentially) by the world.” He used the analogy of posters in a bedroom as the old way to express support of, say, a band or even a political movement, compared to the new tendency to proclaim everything online. This will clearly affect the amount of influence we feel we can wield. A big poster of Che, or Morrissey, or Hitler, is largely a gesture, possibly a statement to friends who visit. Its primary impact is on ourselves and we are well aware of that. But if we stick something up online, we broaden the potential audience to encompass everyone in the world with internet access. Even if, in reality, nobody else sees the post, it still feels like a statement to the world. If that doesn’t influence the way we feel then we’re probably deluded.
So now it’s 2011 and apart from Skynet being self-aware we’ve all got pretty comfortable with the online world and the concept of self-publishing. Social media has expanded far beyond what even the most starry-eyed wonks would have predicted 15 years ago to the point where many people are routinely sharing the minutest details of their lives with vast audiences. Extroverts love the fact they can externalise constantly, even when they’re alone, while introverts are free to emote and opine without the stultifying presence of others. Social media swings somewhere between shouting from the rooftops and phoning the Samaritans. (And who can’t say that about themselves?)
Next time: Having promised myself that I wouldn’t just blog about blogging, I’ll be explaining how a bunch of stuff in the real world has been grinding my gears recently.