If you sit down and look at an atlas, you can see the world spiraling out on your lap. You can trace boundary lines with your fingertips and dream of the places you wish to see. You can plan exactly how to get from A to B, and which countries you would have to travel through. The atlas gives us the entire picture and shows us our planet in all its infinite details. As the years have gone by and history has taken its toll, borders and boundary lines have changed, countries have come and gone and the atlas forever adjusts to reflect our new geographical world. Yet despite all the updated and modern atlases that are produced every year, there is still one country it continually misses off its pages. It is a country we have all heard of and most of the world’s population are active citizens of. It is a fairly new country that is forever developing itself. It is a country we call…Internet.
This new country was founded back in the 1990s by Tim Berners-Lee who had a vision for a system that would hold the information of multiple programs. Yet just like Victor Frankenstein, he had created something far more menacing and vast than he had originally intended. Little did he know that in an attempt to create better data sharing, he actually created a country that we would all soon clamor to become citizens of. The internet is no longer a space limited to sharing knowledge and IT information, it has instead, transformed into a global country that we have all emigrated to. We use it for shopping, for entertainment, for knowledge and most importantly, we use it to communicate and interact with other human beings. In fact, many people spend more time on the internet, than living in their own actual realities, choosing to spend time in this new country, than in the very ones they are physically bound to.
To travel around Internet you do not need passports and papers when approaching borders, but instead you can roam free through its territories, all from the comfort of one chair. If at any point we do choose to interact in the countries we are grounded to, our various pocket devices ensure that Internet is always at our fingertips and we can dip back into our beloved homeland if we need to.
Internet has even developed its own quasi language for its citizens, a mixture of emoticons, symbols and various abbreviations that mean little to anyone who is not technologically involved. Unless you speak fluent Internet, you will have no idea that the symbols **// means ‘wink wink, nudge nudge’ and that someone is most probably being playful with you, as opposed to merely experiencing a hand spasm and generating a horrific typo. Internet is in essence, its very own country that has its own complex traditions and cultures, communities and languages.
While the large majority of people will argue that the internet is infinitely great and a force for good that has brought us so many positive contributions, there is a case to be made for the flip side of this ingenious beast. Although it has given, in the same breath it has taken away. Since we are all sitting firmly in our bedrooms, participating to help build this new country, we are losing some of the most basic social skills that once defined our interaction with the human race. I am aware that at this point
I may sound like your aged grandmother preaching about the lack of sociability among the younger generation, but unfortunately on this occasion, they do preach a very candid sermon.
Kids can now be found siting in their bedrooms, active citizens of Internet, participating in this new world order, yet once they leave and without the protection of their keyboards to hide behind, they are introverted, shy and cannot seem to handle normal social interaction. They can very easily Tweet an honest snapshot of emotional depth, yet in person they are incapable of conveying real feelings. They can furiously jump into an ongoing debate on Facebook, but trying and get them to stand up in a room full of people and speak their opinion is almost impossible. They are comfortable communicating in Internet, a world they were born into, yet their physical and realistic worlds seem to pose a much bigger challenge. When the decision is made to venture out of Internet and socialise in a physical form, their interaction is dominated by live Tweets and Facebook updates, just to make sure everyone back home in Internet is fully aware as to what is going on. As soon as they gather, a Facebook status is updated to let everyone know that this person has checked in with X, Y and Z and a particular restaurant. It does not even end there and as soon as the food arrives, pictures are taken and uploaded to Internet so that the other citizens can ‘Like’, ‘Favourite’ or ‘Re-Tweet’ as they see fit. Although they try to leave Internet, they never fully take themselves out of the country.
It can also be argued that as well as eradicating all means of genuine interaction with fellow humans, it is also destroying the ability to think for oneself and generate any real form of intelligence. Once upon a time, in a time long gone, people would puzzle things out, debate issues and eventually arrive at conclusions. However, we now have Google. He is one of the high lords of Internet and he presides over all things. If we have the slightest tickle of natural inquisition, it is instantly quelled as we choose to ‘google it’ to find our answers immediately. Should a natural and healthy debate begin to surface among friends, Google acts as the high inquisitor and supervises all arguments. It is as if there is no room for natural curiosity. We barely even bother to spell our own words anymore, and we rely upon Internet to provide us with correct spellings and grammar formats. We can type a difficult word, yet give one of us a pen and paper and it is almost guaranteed that they cannot write out the same word with the correct spelling. It is almost a wonder we can even spell our own names without help from Internet.
The extent of how far reaching Internet has become can be seen when we look at how our real worlds have attempted to adapt and change to keep up with this new founded country that is slowly colonising every other realm in the world, its very own imperialistic take over. Our own legal system has desperately tried to adapt to keep up with Internet’s own laws, which are admittedly few and far between. As citizens of Internet enthusiastically type out feelings and thoughts they wouldn’t dare voice in reality, their written characters on a screen can be harmful, malicious and cause a volley of rumours that have no basis in truth, but thanks to Internet, spread like wildfire through the cyber plains. The British legal system has attempted to quell the overpowering force of voices that may choose to speak out against one individual, but let’s be honest, you can hardly go round and arrest 3,000 Twitterati for posting untruthful tweets. Internet is a law unto its self, it is too infinite for our small legal systems to contain and control.
Internet is a huge and powerful country that is spreading out across our atlas and dominating as an unseen force on the word map. It is an illustrious country that is plentiful and bountiful, yet just like the garden of Eden, it has its own pitfalls and traps that are waiting to swallow us up. Futile arguments about young children accessing unsuitable content are minor issues that don’t seem that pressing anymore. Growing children in their naturally inquisitive ways will always access things they shouldn’t, parents can set limitations and these things can be regulated. There are now bigger issues as to what Internet is doing internally to the generations that are being born into it. In our attempt to improve communication among all corners of the world, we could be ironically, destroying it. We may just be producing a generation that do not have the ability to maintain eye contact or any kind of personal interaction. We may be creating a force of young people that walk around, keyboards trailing after them on leads, just in case they need to talk to anyone. Perhaps one day something as normal and simple as parties will be strictly limited to Skype. We might end up messaging our friends to tell them what time we will ‘log on’ as opposed to when we plan on arriving. We will just arrive online instead, the act of physically turning up at someone’s house completely negated and unnecessary.
I am more than happy to stand down from my soap box and admit that I too am an active citizen of Internet. I have been known to furiously Tweet every funny remark that comes out of a conversation, upload numerous pictures of cupcakes and generally engage in worthless debates as opposed to leaving Internet and entering my physical world. I am as guilty as the next person. Yet it is the subtle and deliberate change that Internet is having upon us all, that leads me to question its unfailing status as the invention of the century. Yes it has given an abundance of positivity that is hard to argue with. Boarder lines, boundaries and territories have faded and vanished, leaving us with the freedom to roam all over the world at our leisure. It is invigorating and exciting, yet there is something far darker and more serious stirring beneath the surface of all this enlightened brightness. George Orwell once had an idea about a 24 hour surveillance state, yet Internet has become a country that has completely blown Orwell out of the water.