Internet: An agent of communication, inspiration and… destruction?

Internet media seem to have magnified what is tacky, uncouth and grotesque about human beings. Once again, science and discovery have unveiled for us a powerful tool, and once again we have managed to exploit this tool’s destructive elements and reduce it to a counter-productive distraction and another source of disunity. History is full of pivotal transitions in history during which technological revolutions have not only promoted education, medicine, agriculture and safety, but have also amplified evils such as prejudices, nationalism, immorality, hate, terrorism and more.

This point cannot be exhausted, but all one has to do to fully grasp the scale with which the Internet can harm as much, if not more, as it helps is to do a mental exercise in imagining every useful element of Web communication in the hands of the forces of hate and division.

It may seem like a quantum leap to transition here to a question such as, “what can save humans from themselves?” But really, that’s where you get once you move past the ridiculous debates about the state of the Internet, whether its the fault of the media or the audience, abolishing elitism or promoting anarchy, free speech or giving voice to hate-mongering, etc. This recently-unthinkable mode of communication could be devoted to informing, connecting and inspiring a new breed of men and women who, if they chose to, would rise to be more-educated and faster-advancing problem solvers and world redeemers, but so far the emerging breed seems more interested in up-to-the-nano-second updates on the degraded lives of celebrities and distracting themselves with consumerism and frivolity.

Ideas spread fast on the Web, but even more quickly can serve to polarize people. Moral-relativism versus fundamentalism, liberals versus conservatives, right versus left… These are the new man-made divisions, created to replace the other barriers that were zapped when the world shrank down to one economic, social and racial neighborhood. The Internet is a magnifying glass–even a microscope, an infinite number of them–trained on every petri dish holding another facet of humanity, beginning new experiments, abrogating misconceptions, catalyzing clashes, both old and new.

This brings me to my point, or one of them, at least. Today I’ve been thinking about three loose categories of Web participants, contributors and passive consumers alike:

  1. people and organizations who are shaping their presence on the Internet to be constructive, beneficial and even uplifting
  2. those who are seeking to harm, spread hate and create discord
  3. users for which the Internet is almost entirely a source of entertainment, and I honestly, without any hard numbers, believe this is the majority.

As the Web presence of the the many seeking to damage and wreak havoc continues to grow, the third category, by its inertia and lack of concern, will actually become complicit in strengthening the voices of disunity.

I realize now that the question of the future of news and the convergence of media—how information as a business can remain viable and profitable—is secondary to figuring out how humanity will make use of the Internet. Debating online journalism would become obsolete if the way we wield the Web should be fundamentally changed were the harm caused by the interconnectedness deemed to outweigh the good. Is it so hard to imagine that our personal safety will not become more of an issue?

The media would do well to ponder this idea that it is in their best interest not only to pursue how they will use the Internet, but also the viability that the Internet will continue to be used in its present, open, nearly-unregulated, volatile form. The two are intrinsically connected.

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