Have we reached ‘peak internet’? What a horrible phrase. I picked it up from the internet — it does have its uses you know.
I use the internet all the time. I live on a low income in a quiet part of the world and it allows me to see what goes on elsewhere, with minimal expense and no effort. I find music, I read the news, in various, possibly if not probably dubious forms and from varied, possibly if not probably dubious perspectives depending of course upon your own particular, possibly if not probably dubious, perspective; I play hashtag games, I shout at the telly via Twitter and I make the occasional joke. All the usual undemanding stuff that distracts me from what I should probably —possibly — make that definitely — be dealing with. It’s an entertainment, it’s legal and cheap and I enjoy it. I don’t ever use Facebook though. I’m basically skint and an all-round failure, or so I start believing if I dip my toe into its murky waters for more than a millisecond and start comparing myself to others. It’s terrible for my self-esteem. On top of that, there is the dodginess of it being a privately owned company, run for profit, with its endless targeted adverts and ‘algorhythms’. I’m not quite sure what algorhythms are so I’ll leave that one for now but they don’t sound like anything I want following me around in ‘cyberspace’. I’m not quite sure what ‘cyberspace’ is either, really, if I’m honest, but it seems to be everywhere.
Facebook, that claustrophobic never-ending school reunion, triggers all sorts of doubt and self-loathing in me that is best left buried, and in another, internet-free age, certainly would have been. You don’t escape after two hours of lies and ‘front’ in your good clothes with a couple of ‘stiffeners’ to help you get through — it’s in your face(book) every day of the week and unless you shut down your account, you have your nose rubbed in your own failure to be a rampant success for the rest of your life. I don’t wish to see wrinkly old school-mates ‘loving life’ glamping on a yurt holiday and bungee jumping off the Great Wall of China (not the restaurant - ‘LOL’ — although, in some cases, it might be) and former public sector ‘cohorts’ downing cocktails in Fuengirola, dandling their grand-kids on their suntanned knees and eating bar suppers every night courtesy of retiring at fifty-five on a large pension. Doubtless for their part they would not wish to see my blight-infested potato patch and rotting garden shed. Lives go in different directions and we aren’t all the same. I don’t want to have to keep trying to convince myself that That is a Good Thing. So, I avoid Facebook.
It used to be that we had to seek things out rather than have them presented to us by a company with private interests. We had to find books and look in the index to find other books, possibly dusty books on a neglected library shelf or in a second-hand bookshop on a cobbled, rainy backstreet at four o’clock on a Tuesday afternoon. We couldn’t simply sit on our sofas or under our duvets eating Pringles with one hand, while wiggling our fingers and Googling with the other— we had to use our physicality, our legs to be precise, and our imaginations, not to mention certain parts of our brains which might well in time die off through lack of use.
I think we humans are better than the owners of the big internet companies think we are. They sit above us like the gods on Mount Olympus but I think we can see through it all, through the shininess and the shoddiness and the rubbish, and that indeed, ‘peak internet’ has been reached. I think we bog-standard earth-dwellers are — ghastly phrase klaxon — ‘ahead of the curve’. Those of us not too busy selfie-ing ourselves eating barbecued prawns in Fuengirola while dandling our grandkids can see that the internet probably has certain uses, but these must remain limited so that we can have a place it does not and cannot reach. We need to remain in control, using the internet only as a convenient tool. We must not allow ourselves to be used as advertising fodder or to be tracked and monitored by chips in our cars or chips in our fridges or chips in our leccy meters, and we shouldn’t have to live as troglodytes to escape it. There must be some free space that the internet cannot reach.
I do wonder however if we’ve left it too late. Already the government has transferred online the handling of many tasks formerly completed manually. For example, tax returns, and benefit claims. This may be convenient for some but again, like paying bills by direct debit, it removes a level of privacy and control from the individual. It removes the option, or rather, the basic human right, of stubborn refusal. There is even talk of a cashless economy and ‘payment platforms’ so that all transactions can be tracked and taxed. I hope that never happens.
My generation is the last to remember the age Before the Internet. It was a time of maps, phone boxes, letters, and libraries, and personal freedoms that we took entirely for granted, and it’s all slipped through our fingers in less than ten years, barely noticed. I’m talking about the freedom not to pay a bill, to demand better service on pain of withholding payment, to demand decency just because, to have a meltdown and go off on your own for a week without your picture being relentlessly transmitted on social media, to go AWOL for a while, to stand up and say I AM AN INDIVIDUAL, I AM A HUMAN BEING AND THAT IS MY WORTH AND I AM NOT FILING MY TAX RETURN ONLINE OR HAVING A CHIP IN MY LECCY METER. I MET SOMEONE ON MY HOLIDAYS AND YOU WON’T KNOW THEM, YOU’LL NEVER KNOW THEM, YOU WEREN’T AT UNI WITH THEM, YOU WEREN’T AT SCHOOL WITH THEM AND I AM NOW GOING AWAY SOMEWHERE THAT IS NONE OF YOUR CONCERN THAT DOES NOT HAVE HI-SPEED BROADBAND AND YOU WILL NEVER FIND ME.