Humanity 2.0: Growing Up in the Internet Age

Reproduced in a legal fashion from xkcd.com

Every day this past week, my Facebook newsfeed has been flooded with Kony banners, memes, and video links. A few of the perpetuators have been people I consider to be very socially conscious; the majority have been people I normally wouldn’t consider to be activists in any way—unless they are advocating the extension of modern gun season.*

It gave me pause, to see my college friends and my hordes of third cousins from South Arkansas united under a common thread. How strange the world has become. Ten years ago, Facebook didn’t exist. Heck, ten years ago, my family had just gotten our first computer.

I was born on March 19th, 1990, and my generation is in a unique place to appreciate the Before and After the Internet Age. When I started school, I’d never heard of mechanical pencils, and my mom’s office wrote scheduling down in notebooks. Cameras used film, no one had cell phones…you get where I’m going with this. I am still only twenty-one years of age. I’m not particularly old; but the rate of increase is increasing. Now most people not only have cell phones, but they have internet access on their cell phones. Home computers have expanded to laptops, which travel with us everywhere.  There’s no point in debating the pros and cons of this; the interwebs are here to stay. But it’s worth pausing to think about how this is going to affect us in the years to come.

We’ve gotten used to businesses giving out a website address instead of a brochure, exchanging LinkedIn accounts instead of business cards. Though we still put up flyers and tout bumper stickers, it’s more common to create events on Facebook and post pictures to Twitter or Imgur. This is all excellent. Information is being spread more quickly, more efficiently, and further than ever before. Professional contacts are easier to make, artists and musicians are having an easier time getting their names out, and it’s easier to research just about anything and donate money to worthwhile causes than ever before.

But.

I got on the bus yesterday and sat down. There were seven other people on the bus. Seven of us, me included, were busily looking down at our phone screens, carefully avoiding eye contact with the people around us. The only person who didn’t have a phone out was a nontraditional student of around sixty.

My boyfriend plays video games for at least an hour or two a day. Granted, he plays online, with people he knows, and talks to them on the headset. But. Sometimes I have to fight to get him to go “outside.” Jokingly, plaintively, he tells me “But it’s scary out there.” I have frightening visions of him and his gamer friends ending up like the population from Veelox, the world in the Pendragon book series where everyone plugs into a system at birth and interacts with one another in fantasy worlds.

The internet makes many things wonderfully simple—paying bills, applying to grad schools, inviting people to parties. But. It makes other things readily accessible as well—pornography, pirating, drug and human trafficking. There’s a shadow-side to just about any good thing. The point I would like to make is that things will probably get worse before they get better, that things are changing incredibly quickly when compared to the generations before us, and we’ve got to stay on top of it or get rolled over. It seems easy now, because we’re young and open to new things, but we won’t be young forever. And things are going to get a lot more complicated.

We have to find a happy medium, between maximizing the opportunities the internet offers us and engaging in “real,” meaningful interactions with our environment and the people in it. The Pope has a Twitter account, now, did you know? He updates it from his iPad, probably the same model my parents are thinking of buying my nine-year-old brother for his next birthday. The world is shrinking: now what do we do? The internet brings us detailed information about human rights violations in Uganda and Tibet—and it makes us cynical about much of the information we’re presented with. We are oversaturated with information, especially shock-tactic news persuasion, to the point where some of us are becoming desensitized and withdrawn. How do we counter this?

I’m sorry, but this is a post of questions, not answers. In the past week alone, I read three articles about innovations regarding vehicles. There is a flying car that is about to go on the market to the average Joe for a mere 290K—I shudder to think how traffic laws will respond to that—and in Arizona, Google is testing out its driverless, preprogrammed cars on state highways. In Germany Mercedes-Benz just completed a week-long tour of its “invisible” car, a vehicle covered in LED screens with cameras taking pictures of the surroundings and reproducing scenes on the corresponding side of the car.

It’s been about a century since cars became readily available to the public. Look how much has changed—and how quickly. The rate of increase in technology has been climbing since the dawn of time—until now, in a short decade, our world has changed so quickly that many members of older generations have whiplash. And it is us, the generation that created Facebook and Pinterest and “blogging,” who will shape what happens next. We can’t shrink back from the responsibility; the ball is already rolling. We’ve just got to climb on top and start dancing.

*This might sound rude, but it’s not, as I am related to scores of these individuals and am speaking affectionately.

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