A million tweets a minute. A thousand blog posts a day. Clickbait. Comment wars. Rage-ons. Listicles. Quizzes. Recommendations, reviews, rankings. A billion every second.
Fuck you. I hate that person. Don’t you? Yeah. God. I hate them more than you do. #LOL.
I’m going to stalk them. Hector him. Harass her. Bully them. Torment them.
Until what? Until…until I’m satisfied. That I’m better than them. That I have more than they do.
Of what? The numbers, the likes, the hearts, the fans, the followers, the glory, the high score. The attention.
That’s what I deserve!! Why do they have more of it than me?
The internet is in a dark place. Or perhaps it’s more accurate to say that it’s become a dark place.
What happened to the net? Here’s my tiny thesis.
Social “technologies” trap us. At least as they currently stand. To play out a kind of Mutually Assured Destruction.
They dehumanize us. Literally. They reduce us bits. They make us lo-fi humans. Two dimensional people imprisoned in animated gifs in tiny boxes in little profiles in vast data warehouses in great digital factories…desperately beating their fists against the shimmering bars of their cages.
And so they bring out not the best—but, more and more, the worst in us.
You’re sitting at a bar across from a person. You disagree with them. You smile and shout. You laugh, and joke, and play.
You’re sitting across the world from a person you see on a screen. You disagree with them. You frown, and hiss, and curse. You say things to them you would never say at the bar. You employ a violence that hurts you as much as it hurts them. You have become a machine of vengeance, running a program of…
Mutually Assured Destruction.
Why? What’s the difference? At the bar, you see a person. The human being. In all their fragility, nobility, chemistry. On the screen, you merely see a picture. A line of text. Colors. Pixels.
What does all that stuff share? It’s disposable. It doesn’t matter if you abuse a pixel. After all, a pixel doesn’t have a heart…mind…body…soul. Right?
The internet is turning us into small, angry, threatened people. Gollums and Malfoys. Not Bilbos, Gandalfs, and Harrys. And should we spend long enough in the company of shrunken, stunted people, we soon race to outdo them. In cruelty. In greed. In vanity. And so, contest by contest, we become monsters. Seeking vengeance. For being monsters. By becoming greater monsters still.
Hey! Look! I got more attention! I got more views! I bullied them right off the internet! #LOL!! #win!! #fuckyeah!! See how powerful I am!
The internet is turning human beings into commodities. Objects. Things. Not merely that we buy and sell (though we do). But those that we chase, pursue, and prize. That we consume.
Hey! I didn’t like that commodity! Fuck it! What a piece of shit! Trash! Junk! I’ll get another one. A better one. A newer one.
What do we do with commodities we don’t satisfy us? Crumple them. Trash them. Rip them to shreds. Throw them away. Hurt, break, damage them. Take out every last bit of your anger and rage and fear on them. Why not? They don’t have feelings. You do.
The internet makes us think of people like that. But people are not commodities. They hurt. They remember. They break. You cannot merely buy a new one. And so when you abuse people, as though they were merely objects, you are wrong. In the truest sense of the word.
How did we get here?
Speed. The internet is a factory that’s gone haywire. It runs too fast—and it’s running out of control. People are commodities on the internet because this internet is predicated on speed. A million tweets a second. A thousand blog posts a day. A hundred instapics every moment. More, more, more. The more of the digital detritus there is, the more we need to accumulate…and the less we need anyone else to have…to prove how valued we are.
We created a cycle. Of Malfoys and Gollums playing a game of Mutually Assured Destruction. An outrage cycle. An abuse cycle. A scandal cycle. Let’s get him! Yeah. Go!! Wow! That was exciting. What a rush!! He’s done. Who’s next? And so the cycle spins. Faster and faster and faster. Digital terrorism, at the speed of light. We smash and hurt and abuse and shout. How else will we know we’re not…worthless?
Each of us deserves a better internet than that—or else we should rightly abandon it.
Once, the internet held a great promise. Perhaps the greatest promise of all. To be the lighthouse that guided each person to their rightful destination.
Slow it down.
The faster the internet runs, the more vicious the cycle of Mutually Assured Destruction gets. The sharper and longer its teeth. The hungrier its appetite. The more bottomless the pit of its stomach.
We need a Slow Web. A Web that promotes not just surface, but depth. Not just consumption, but exploration. Not just titillation, but understanding. Not just distraction, but absorption. Not just searching for, but growing into.
Let’s make a better internet. One that’s not fast food for the human spirit. One that’s not fast fashion for the human mind. One that’s not a big box store of the human soul. Because when we make an internet that resembles all those, we will naturally be driven to attack, hate, mock, jeer, bully, bluster…rubbish, trash, crumple. After all. That’s what we do to commodities.
Let’s make a slower web. One where quality, durability, and depth outweigh quantity, disposability, and gloss. One that’s not drowning in clickbait, pseudo-quantification, comments, meanonymity, pettiness, triviality, sensationalism, listicles, quizzes, profile questions, recommendations, reviews, rankings. A billion billion a second. That everyone’s competing for. And will do awful, cruel, terrible things to gain. A web that’s ending in… endless Mutually Assured Destruction.
If all the internet is good for is Mutually Assured Destruction, this much I guarantee you.
It is not the lighthouse at the edge of the ocean.
It is merely fools’ gold glittering in the abyss. For which we will race desperately to the bottom. Viciously, hungrily clawing at one other for. To have first, most, fastest. Blind, grasping monsters, hunting one another in the darkness.
If that is all there is to this internet, then. Perhaps we must build another lighthouse instead.