a window to the outside world
For me life online started when I was at university. I studied for six years, and when I started, registering for an exam meant going to campus and signing your name on a physical list. When I concluded my studies the exam registration was happening online only. Over the course of those six years the world had changed, or at least the part of the world where I was living.
I fully realize I sound like a grandmother now, but when I grew up you had to make your way to the library or at least go pick up a physical encyclopedia to find information. We didn’t have an encyclopedia in my house, so hence I spent a lot of time at the library. I also dragged quite an impressive amount of books back and forth on a very regular basis, and we’re talking piles at a time here. These days you can just go to wikipedia. I love libraries and I still like spending time there, but I also really like wikipedia. And I truly love the internet.
Obviously the abundance of information that’s right at your finger tips is enough to make me purr with delight, but the other fantastic thing is the quantum leap in communication the internet has brought with it. People aren’t plants and therefore we move around. The internet has provided us with completely new ways to stay in touch over vast geographical distances. Before the internet living in different countries put serious obstacles in the way of having a close and frequent contact. Of course you could stay in touch, but it took time and/or was expensive. Today you can talk to anyone at any time for free.
The interesting thing is also that the person to person communication has been one of the main focuses of development. Finding ways to interact, that seems to be a really big deal in the online version of reality. And probably quite logically so. We’re social animals, we like to have a tribe, belong to a group, be part of a social context, and the internet has opened up several new ways for us to engage in this behavior. We can email, skype, chat, tweet, blog, etc, etc, etc. What ever takes your fancy.
And our fancy it has definitely taken. We have incorporated the internet into our lives and I think it’s not that far off to say that life without the internet would be, if not unthinkable, in any case a lot more cumbersome for most of us. There’s of course the obvious fact that a lot of people wouldn’t be able to do their jobs without internet and the tons of jobs out there that are all about the internet, that wouldn’t even exist without internet. But what’s even more interesting is the subversive social aspects. The recent events in the Middle East being one of the most blatant examples. And there’s so much more potential out there. Ways to challenge the powers that be. Not just by finding a way to express your opinions without (that much) censorship, but also by finding new way to share information. File sharing has permanently changed the record industry and the movie industry seems to be next in line. Of course this development isn’t entirely unproblematic, but it does open up for new ways to think about distribution amongst other things. Or rather, it forces us to rethink these issues. And it’s not all bad. One of the more interesting aspects is the shift in control over creative output, because even if a lot of musicians have openly criticized what they call theft there are other elements to it as well. The possibility to directly interact with the audience being one of the more interesting aspects. Again, the person to person communication.
Even if the information part of the internet is the core, the back bone if you will, the communication aspect is equally important and quite possible the factor that has led us to so completely incorporate the world-wide web into our daily lives. Because not only does it give us the possibility to stay in touch with your physical, real world friends, it also gives you an opportunity to get to know new people independent of geographical proximity. You can make friends with people you have never even met in real life. And that’s actually a key phrase here; ‘real life’. These days we do distinguish between real life and online life. The distinction is part of our vocabulary because it’s part of our life. Or rather, life is taking place online too.
I have several online acquaintances, people who I have essentially gotten to know online. Some of these people I’ve met in person, some not, and the difference isn’t actually all that big. Having a few random online interactions in the same forum or on a facebook page isn’t all that different from having a random conversation with someone at a party. The level of intimacy is very similar. But I also have friends who I have gotten to know online. Real friends. These people I have met in person too, but the actual development of our friendship, that whole growth process, was something that happened exclusively online. The in-person meetings only served as a reinforcement of what was already there.
And that’s a big part of my love for the internet, the people who are out there. The new friends and the old. And that’s actually what the internet is, people connecting with one another. Be it to conduct transactions, share information or just catch up, it’s all about people. Life. And that’s probably why totalitarian regimes are targeting the internet so aggressively, because in the simple act of bringing people together the internet has proven to be one of the most subversive phenomena we have out there. Ideas that can be shared. Thoughts. Interaction. And sure, there’s a lot of shit out there too, but just like life, it’s all the sum of what we make of it.