I’m not at all sure where to start with this post.
My part of the world — the United States — seems to me to be in some kind of downward spiral and I don’t know what to do about it. Does it make sense to try to write and make some sense of it that way, and perhaps persuade a few other people that something needs to be done, or we’re doomed?
Are we, in fact, doomed? Or is this just the same old story that’s been going around for as long as there have been human beings disagreeing on how things should be done?
When I was younger, I remember running across quotes from ancient Greek writers saying things like,
The youth of today are lazy, no good, slackoisie who left unchecked will bring down all civilization. They don’t want to learn anything; all they want to do is party all day; and they won’t listen to their elders (like me).
Okay, that’s a paraphrase. But the wording really was pretty close to that. I deliberately “updated” it by adding in words like “slackoisie,” which is favored by a group of attorneys I enjoy reading on the Internet.
And lest those attorneys read this and are offended at my using “slackoisie” here, because they are absolutely convinced things are different today, I just have to say “so were the ancient Greeks who wrote such things thousands of years ago.”
Who knows? Maybe I’m wrong. Things may be different today, too. The Internet certainly seems to have had a significant impact on society that is farther reaching than my meager brain can completely grasp.
On the other hand, in many ways I think the Internet has just highlighted particular issues. I argued years ago on Internet Relay Chat that the distinction some drew between IRC and RL (“real life”) was bogus. Many people — Tom Christiansen, for one — seemed to me to use this distinction as a justification for being assholes online. But, as I said then, the Internet wasn’t really something totally different; it had real-world impact.
Today we plainly see that. People actually sometimes die because of the Internet. Companies change their policies because of things said on the Internet. Stock prices go up and down because of what happens on the Internet.
To a large extent, I think the Internet has made what happens around the world more visible. Since there are more people, doing more bad — as well as more good things — there is more bad stuff to see.
At the same time, as noted two paragraphs ago, things really do happen because of the Internet. So to that extent, the Internet really has possibly changed the playing field. The problem, of course, is knowing how much. At some point, quantitative changes have qualitative effects. Put a little smog in the air, nobody notices; a little more, people start to get sick; keep going, and folks are going to die.
So is the world really becoming a worse place? Are kids today really all that different from kids of yesterday in terms of drive, intelligence, and what they will do, or not do, in this world?
Are we doomed? Or does the Internet warp our perception that the end is nigh because we can see so much more, so much more quickly?