How does the internet change the way you think and process things?
In the following six paragraph paper, I argue that as the context of our personal life changes, our behavior and goals will change as well. I also reflect on the why Instagram and posting on this blog are not altogether healthy.
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The Internet Reshapes Context and Mindset
We contextualize our lives more broadly than ever before. We have always seen ourselves as part of a communal mesh. In the past, this community consisted of those living in close proximity. The people with whom we had the most interaction were those living closest to us. In the twenty-first century, a large portion of our interaction is with those geographically far removed from us, perhaps people we have never met face to face. As internet users, the context in which we view our lives has broadened significantly. Our horizontal story line still only spans about a century, but its breadth has widened exponentially. Our potential for inhabited contextual space dwarfs that of our ancestors.
According to digitalinformationworld.com, internet users spend about two and a half hours per day on social media. If we are deeply immersed in social media, it follows that we will view ourselves within that landscape, as a character in that context. Abraham Maslow quipped, “It is tempting, if the only tool you have is a hammer, to treat everything as if it were a nail.” And if you hold an Instagram account, the whole world is a picture to be taken, edited, and captioned. The real power of social media is perhaps not the consumption of our time but the alteration of our mindset. It hones our focus on image and aesthetic, and it rewards us for achieving its goals. Rather, we reward each other with nods of approval, likes and upvotes.
I have found the internet affects the manner in which I write. Since I was about fourteen, I’ve written for pleasure. Yet I’ve noticed, especially lately, that I don’t write as freely as I used to. I compose with the awareness that if I like what I’ve written, I might save it to post on my blog. I find that the potential for an audience actually changes the way I write as well as the things I write about. Regarding the advent of the printing press, Elizabeth Eisenstein writes, “The increased recourse to silent publication undoubtedly altered the character of some spoken words. Exchanges between members of parliament, for example, were probably affected by the parliamentary debates.” The knowledge that our words have permanence, that they will not disappear after an echo, changes the way we speak and how we think about speech altogether.
While the internet broadens the scope of our acquaintances, it makes us less likely to speak with family and neighbors. Yesterday, the NCAA announced their decision to approve the compensation of college athletes for their name, image, and likeness. When I got this news, I wrote a post asking my social media community what they thought about it, as well as stating my own dismay concerning the decision. If not for the internet, I might have gone down to the living room and asked my dad what he thought about it – or called a friend to have a conversation with him about it. The internet increases the number of prospective contributors to our conversations but also moves the space of conversation to a place we cannot physically enter.
“Honor the world by observing it truly and writing about it with humility” writes Walter Wangerin (Beate not the Poore Desk). When we roam about, phone in hand, waiting for something to capture and caption, post and be complimented for, we are not observing the world truly. And when we sit down to compose with the hope of getting quantifiable affirmation, clicks and web traffic, we are not writing with humility. The internet puts within our grasp the power of Solomon who took for himself a thousand concubines. How many could he love faithfully?
The internet has made artists and writers and speakers and preachers of us all. But to whom has it made us neighborly? It tempts us to process our experiences through the eyes of another. It rewards us for caricaturing ourselves for approval. Neil Postman describes the Athenian idea of leisure saying, “a civilized person would naturally spend his time thinking and learning” (The Disappearance of Childhood). In American culture it seems the ones considered most civilized are those with the largest inhabited space. The internet has moved us from desiring power inside our own minds to presence in the minds of others.