Whilst at dinner this evening, I was part of a conversation where my mum and some of her friends (so, think 40s to 60s) were talking about the internet and internet threats. My mum complained how people could do anything they wanted because they hid behind their computer screens. It made me think about how my generation and her generation see the internet. Whilst nothing new, it continues to be an interesting phenomenon.
So far, the internet seems limitless – we can do what we want on it, a globe’s worth of knowledge and information (for better or worse) is available in duplicate, triplicate, and so on. We wonder how we’ve ever managed to live without it. We can chat instantly with people around the world, anytime, anywhere, and for a fraction of the cost!
It all seems to sound good. So what’s the problem?
Well, I’m sure you do not need me to tell you about spam, bots, viruses, adverts, and many more things that irk us no end, and no matter what we do, we will always have these things. The insidious and hurtful practice of trolling has taken the interwebs by storm; and whether we like it or not, there will always be people who feed the trolls.
Which brings me back to my mum’s generation. Most will know how to avoid chain letters, delete spam, avoid virus infections, and so on. But none of us can avoid the internet flaming and flak. For every well intentioned and opinionated comment, there will be a very angry someone somewhere, who is compelled to reply. It brings us cheer and disappointment in equal measure to see the best and the worst of humankind celebrated on the internet; where people are amazingly generous, and horribly selfish. My mum is still shocked by some of the horrible things people can get away with online, and disapproves of what she calls a “lack of morals”. I think she’s right, but I wasn’t as shocked as her. I’ve come to expect this kind of thing. To take the good with the bad, and to just learn how to navigate in the online ocean. I mean, if you want to go diving, you’ve got the beautiful corals and fish. Then you also have sharks, and poisonous urchins. You know the dangers and get used to being careful and avoiding them. Habit.
I’ve grown up in between times. A time where there was no publicly affordable/accessible internet, no mobile phones that did not break the scales, and the computers we lived with were rudimentary to our 2013 eyes. Now we have the world at our fingertips. We don’t even need to leave our chairs to see the world thanks to software like Google Maps, and hardware that can provide and cope with high internet speeds and the transactions of many many many bits of data. I’ve grown up with the internet. My kids and future generations will never know a world where the internet did not exist. Lack of morals or not, the internet is here to stay.
We’ve seen so many health and social problems appear alongside this convenience, and some wonder whether it’s even worth it. (I think it is.) Like the sea analogy I used earlier, you just learn to avoid the sharks. By trial and error, or by the warnings of the more savvy netizens, we gain more information on how to protect ourselves, and increasingly, our ideas and our minds. In world history, the internet is still a very young milestone, and I feel that we have barely begun to explore how that changes our rights and our freedom. Some day someone will have sorted it all out, but for now, we continue to fight against all sorts of misdemeanours and crimes for the “betterment” of society. Mums the world over will continue to complain about the lack of morals, and how “nobody seems to be doing anything about it”, or “nothing can stop these crazy people”. I can understand this. As for us millenials, we have grown increasingly callous to these problems. This is our sea, this is our world. We swim in it. We might not know every inch of it, or understand how it works, but it’s a familiar trip each time we plug ourselves in. We are so used to seeing negativity that we just ignore it. Which explains my lack of concern – even a rolling of my eyeballs, when I hear my mum complain about the “lack of morals these days”.
To be honest, I think people are just going to be more and more depraved. That’s what will happen in a broken world and a world of sin. Of course, it doesn’t mean that we should cut ourselves off entirely and then know nothing. Neither does it mean ignoring the sin and the bad that goes on around us. It means learning not to get heartaches and chest pains and anxiety when we see something horrible on the internet, there are enough depressed people in the world, and we do not need to harm ourselves needlessly. But it also means that we must practice compassion, and learn to be gracious when replying to vicious comments, or to pray for those who have been hurt. It means practising basic internet safety too, and that includes helping our parents and/or grandparents learn how to do this as well. With patience, might I add. My mum might know how to pinch and swipe on an iPad, but she doesn’t know how to click and drag to select. She also does not seem to be aware of keyboard shortcuts. But let’s not laugh. Let’s help. It will make our surfing/swimming trips in the internet sea much safer.