The Common Good

5 Reasons to Love/Hate the Internet

I was born in 1990. That puts me squarely in the middle of what is referred to as the millennial generation.

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Blan-k/Shutterstock.com

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It also, apparently, makes me a lazy, entitled, narcissist who still lives with my parents.

But that’s beside the point. What’s more important about the date of my birth is that it places me at a distinct and pivotal point in human history: I grew up with the Internet — what they call a “digital native.”

I (vaguely) remember when the Internet got popular; having slow, dial-up that made lots of crazy noises whenever you wanted to use it; talking to other angsty teens on AOL Instant Messenger (“AIM”); downloading music on Napster and Kazaa; and then, slowly but surely, having the Internet became engrained in my everyday life as if it was there the whole time.

But, like the bratty sibling I grew up with (upon reflection, I was equally, if not more, bratty — #humility #perspective), I’ve recognized that I have a love/hate relationship with the Internet. It’s a game-changer for the human experience, so, like that sibling, I think I’ll always love it. But, for every positive, innovative element of the Internet there is an equal and opposite reaction.

So, without further ado, here are a few reasons why I, as an individual millennial, find myself loving and hating the World Wide Web. (Obviously, the list is not exhaustive.)

1. Pretty much all the information is literally at our fingertips (i.e., The Priesthood of All Internet Users)

LOVE: Roughly 500 years ago, Martin Luther spearheaded a turn toward a more democratic view of the church when he put forward the doctrine that all baptized Christians are “priests” and “spiritual” in the sight of God. All church members were seen as equals in what was later deemed “The Priesthood of All Believers.”

Around the same time, the printing press revolutionized who had access to information by widely distributing books. The Bible was no longer accessible only to the Catholic hierarchy.

The Internet has pretty much done the same thing as both of those revolutions. As long as I have a smartphone, I can access almost anything I need to know immediately with a few swipes of my fingers (or, if you prefer to use Siri, a couple voice commands). Instead of a select group of people with access to information via, say, a library, anyone with Internet access can tap into a seemingly unlimited wealth of knowledge. That’s incredible — a Priesthood of All Internet Users, if you will.

HATE: Well, there goes my memory, my attention span, and, sometimes, momentum in a conversation. (That last one is more of an individual problem.) There will be no judgment for those of you who simply scan the list that is this article, but kudos to those who are still devoutly following along!

I once heard that ancient cultures used oral storytelling as a way of remembering history and culture and passing those down to the next generation. Those kinds of stories about life, death, the origins of the earth, the folly of human kind, etc. are now competing with Grumpy Cat and Doge. What’s sad is that the animals are probably winning. (Again, maybe that’s more of a personal problem.)

2. Increased global awareness and connectivity.

LOVE: With pretty much all the information at our fingertips, news can be delivered immediately from anywhere with an Internet connection. Thus, we now have the capacity to know what’s going on all over the globe in almost real-time.

But the infrastructure that provides all that information also connects us in ways that weren’t previously possible. Not only can I know what’s going on in Nigeria with Boko Haram and the girls they kidnapped — I can also see what celebrities and leaders like Michelle Obama think about it via Twitter. The #BringBackOurGirls campaign connected people all over the world over one common issue: justice for girls that were wrongfully kidnapped.

The increased global awareness might be one of the reasons millennials are so passionate about global justice issues: we’re simply more aware of the world’s problems than our predecessors (or, at least, have more access to that awareness). Either that, or it’s because we can get cool T-shirts for supporting justice causes.

HATE: While #BringBackOurGirls may have increased awareness in both the media and the public landscape, it was also just a hashtag. For lots of people, especially millennials, that can be where our willingness to act ends. It can also perpetuate stereotypes of regions like Africa.

My second issue with the increased global awareness and connectivity is the sheer enormity of it all. The constant stream of information can overwhelm us with the weight of all of the problems in the world. Luckily, those problems aren’t ours alone to fix.

3. Social media — and the fact that geographical proximity is no longer necessary.

LOVE: Global connectivity dovetails nicely into the next reason why I love/hate the Internet: social media. With products like Facebook, Skype, and Gmail, I can easily keep in touch with friends all over the globe. (I video chatted with a friend in Brazil just the other day.) While Facebook may provide surface-level friendship retention, sometimes a message or a video chat can be what you need to keep a friendship going.

There’s also always a community of like-minded people conversing about something you might love somewhere on the Internet. One of my friends in high school found a community on the Phish forum and shared his music and enthusiasm for Phish there. On a more serious note, movements like the Arab Spring utilized social media to unite people over a common cause.

HATE: Facebook has largely become a way of showing me what people from high school are up to.

Also, my cousin once said she left Facebook because she felt like it was just one big manifestation of the human ego. To an extent, that’s largely true. I tend to observe myself and lots of others using our Facebook profiles to basically say, “Hey, everyone! Come see how good I look!” On Facebook, we can pick and choose how other people see us and, for the most part, forge an online identity that’s a small, calculated, self-serving picture of who we actually are.

And then there are comment sections. I can’t remember the last time I learned something by reading a comments section. Positive commenters are out there, but negativity rules the realm.

4. Everyone has a voice.

LOVE: Aside from comments, with the Internet and social media there are so many ways to not only have a voice but to generate an active audience. It seems like there has developed A Priesthood of All Bloggers: anyone and everyone can have a blog and express themselves through the written — well, typed — word.

HATE: Most people seem to think they have the voice. That sometimes manifests itself in bloggers throwing out little platitudes every other sentence that are then bolded, italicized, or haplessly thrown into another font. We get it: you found the font panel.

The pace of the Internet also induces the need to respond with commentary immediately to everything without thinking, praying, or even digesting what happened. More often than not, that might not be a good thing. Check out blog editor Sandi’s thoughts on that topic.

5. The LOLZ

LOVE: Couldn’t talk about why I love the Internet without talking about the endless amount of viral videos, memes, and cute animals that make me laugh on the daily.

HATE: I never get anything done. I’ve already got attention issues, but all that stuff just makes it worse.

In the end, the Internet will continue to do its thang, evolve, and change the way we experience the world. And maybe people will read what I’ve decided to contribute to it.

Or maybe that’s just me being narcissistic and entitled. Oh, well. At least — for now — I’m not living with my parents.

Brandon Hook is the Web and Multimedia Associate at Sojourners.

Illustration: Blan-k/Shutterstock.com

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