The Futility Monster

He'll pointlessly derive more enjoyment out of your resources than you

Societal Change: The Internet

Posted by The Futility Monster on March 4, 2010 @ 09:12

OK, it barely raised a corner of my lip in a sort of quarter-smile. But I struggled so hard to find a nice picture for today, so please forgive.

Allow me a brief diversion from low-minded politics to consider a development in society that is really intriguing me.

The internet, to people like me (and I pity them), is one of life’s essentials. I say that without any hint of sarcasm, even though my definition of “essential” doesn’t match the dictionary. Even to people less like me (lucky them) they still find the internet the most important aspect of their daily lives.

Last year when I moved house, I was without the internet for a month. And yet, I wasn’t. In my desperation to keep in touch with the modern world, I dragged myself to the local library, where my thirst for communicativity (NB: made up word) was satiated.

I could have tried living without it. It would have been difficult, and maybe going cold turkey would have weaned me off it. But in any event, I didn’t. I couldn’t. It was just too difficult.

To me, the internet is the simplest and thus the best form of communication. To people who’ve never used it, they will never understand. But introduce them to e-mail, to social networks, to news websites, to blogs, to discussion forums, and to on-demand media the like of which the world has never seen, and something changes.

The world does indeed become a smaller place.

Once people have conquered their initial fear factor of technology, and, hopefully, have avoided falling victim to viruses, scams and other nasties, as well as realised it is largely safe to ignore Carol Vorderman style “Interweb” paranoia, the whole social nexus of one’s life can be transformed. Not overnight, but given time, and given more confidence, attitudes change.

This is where we’re at now.

The past few years have seen the social networking revolution kick into action. It really began with MySpace, though there were previous attempts before that. Very few people were on social networks back then though. I remember being one of the early adopters to that particular site, and that was no fun. What is the point of a social network that isn’t very social?

To truly work, to become the phonebook of the internet, the place via which everyone could be in touch with everyone else, there would need to be a site that reached critical mass. And, preferably, just one. No one can be bothered maintaining several different social networking profiles. Life is complicated enough already.

Enter Facebook. By design or by sheer good fortune, they did it. They passed the point where you can now basically say “everyone is on Facebook” even if it’s nowhere near true. By that, though, you mean that for those of us who have entered the digital world, we are on Facebook, and though we may not like it, each of us engages with it to some degree.

This is a long way away from e-mail, newsgroups and mailing lists, back at the dawn of the internet. Now everyone can have their own “presence” that serves as your own place on the web, available 24/7. It is your digital home, where people can find you and occasionally send you endless invitations to become fans of various silly things, like the incredibly catchy Nuclear Waste Disposal.

Facebook is not the end, though. It will need to change again and again to stay top dog. But by becoming the place at which “everyone” is registered, they become a self-perpetuating institution. No one will want to move away to any upstart network for the fear that, in doing so, there will actually be no one else on the rival website to talk to.

The direction of travel on the internet has always been towards more communication, more interactivity, more personality, more customisation, less privacy, fewer inhibitions and more openness and more freedom. It is both a libertarian’s dream and a nightmare. The public and private spheres made irrelevant and all rolled into one.

That is changing the way we think about each other, and think about friends, and, in some respects testing the absolute limits of our human capacity to be social creatures.

More on that next time. Whenever that may be.

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One Response to “Societal Change: The Internet”

  1. […] Societal Change: The Internet […]

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