Until a few years ago, taking a selfie was seen almost as a sign of eccentricity. To have a blog or to publish some text in the emerging social networks was to belong to a species of the technological elite. Good quality Internet access outside our homes, to upload barely finished content to the web, was unthinkable in certain countries or cities.
The other day, while at a party, I observed a girl arrive with her friends. They positioned themselves on a spot and she proceeded to take a couple of selfies with the music band in the background, then she gave the cellphone to one of her friends and she retreated a few steps to practice a dance choreography while her friend recorded the try. She returned to her spot and, I presume, uploaded the recorded content to Facebook, because shortly thereafter, I heard her comment “look what so-and-so says” with her friends. It all happened in about 5 minutes, not more than 10. If that had happened in 2007, I would have thought I had seen an internet guru in action, but no.
In 2007, I, like many others around the world, was a kind of evangelizer praising the virtues of the Internet. I encouraged friends and people in general to use the then new media, to express themselves and create content for the Web. “The world wants to hear your voice,” and similar phrases were heard as mantras at digital empowerment conferences and workshops, amid praises to the blog, podcast, or connectivity.
Now, years later, the dream is real. However, for many it has become more of a nightmare.
The statistics say that the blog is used more than ever, this is true, but who blogs? Almost nobody. Now blogs are used to put together sales or fake news sites. There are still a few crazy people who do podcasts, but let’s face it, the format never took hold on a wide scale. There are no bloggers anymore. What we have instead are youtubers and influencers. Connectivity reaches more and more places, but it is led by a strong search for earnings on the part of the telecoms, which continue to sell connections beyond their actual capabilities.
But it’s not just about this.
It’s 2017, and now we hear, or we read many voices, this is true, but these voices include a lot of “trolls”. The netiquette or “the proper way” to communicate on the Internet, something that was spread widely in the early days of the blogs, now shines by its absence in the era of the social networks. Virtual lynchings are an everyday occurrence, for just about anything. Fortunately, these waves of indignation against something or someone, as quickly as they come, they leave. However, in general, the toxic environment persists.
The Internet has ceased to be that utopian virtual country where everything good was possible to become more and more a preapocalyptic dystopia, a compartmentalized, monitored space, where the tyranny of the masses grows stronger with every passing day. Or that’s what many seem to think. Look at what Umberto Eco thought: “Social networks give legions of idiots the right to speak,” or what Arturo Pérez-Reverte says: “Networks are formidable, but they are full of illiterates.”
However, it turns out that, to think like this is, in a way, nothing less than going against the foundations of democracy, where, at least theoretically, each voice counts and is important. To deny this is to validate an elitist and non-inclusive society where only the opinion of the few counts. Do we really want that? It should not be forgotten that the so-called virtual, in the context of the internet and social networks is practically only a reflection of reality. So let us not be self compliant and let us not deny reality.
I think that even the voice of the troll is important, because it allow us to see what is wrong in society and to think about how best to remedy it. Perhaps I am a cyber-utopian, but I still believe that the Internet can be that space where the seed of positive change germinates, and can then be transplanted into the real world. Technology continues to advance, but we are still fighting who is right -them or us?
Original post in Spanish in my blog.
Thanks to James Vaisman for proofreading my ugly translation.