The more I see, the less I know for sure.
You made it to the grand finale of this epic 3-part series! Well done.
We’ve covered some ground:
In Part 1 we had a fireside chat with a 17th century stoner who wondered if everything we see is just one big deception, and in Part 2 we took a spin around the internet and found he was pretty much right.
In my line of work, ‘anarchy’ has a technical meaning. It’s not the Sex Pistols’ fantasy of pompous politicians strung up from streetlights while fiery young punks mosh as one in Westminster Abbey.
For political scientists, anarchy means ‘without government’. Total individual freedom.
While a world without pollies, taxes and parking fines sounds good, it’s also a world where those with the most power or lowest morality or loudest voice rule.
It’s a race to the bottom with no shortage of starters. Forget about government services and safety nets, justice and human rights, truth and democracy.
In other words, the internet.
Decades of anarchy in the digital world nurtured humankind’s worst traits, tarted them up and gave them a global platform.
It’s not just the high-tech, low-cost deceptions we saw in Part 2 – stuff like fake news, mainstreaming of extremism, erosion of reason, and political e-warfare.
It’s the white-anting of community and privacy, the commercialisation of everything from compassion to outrage, the mass production of lies, and the incessant brow-beating and shaming that are commonplace.
Not quite the ‘Fuck You, Establishment’ that Johnny Rotten and the boys were demanding in Anarchy in the UK.
The internet is choking under a blanket of digital pollution and bad intentions.
Net-normal is one where outrage trumps truth, looks beat substance and morals are optional.
Our insecurities and worst instincts often prevail, and are frequently commercialised.
So where to from here?
Future of the Net
There are signs the net is breaking up.
China has isolated a huge section of the internet and imposed Communist Party values, like the supremacy of state over individual freedoms.
Behind the Great Firewall of China, content is heavily censored and always on-message. Users are closely monitored and subject to real-world rules and punishments.
Russia too is quarantining part of the internet to better control the information its citizens can access.
Even democracies like India, South Korea, Israel and Brazil are toying with ways to tighten their grip on what their citizens can and cannot see on the internet.
While most Western countries have shied away from censoring the net, many have finally begun taming its excesses.
Pedophiles and terrorists are being hunted down online.
Social media is being forced – kicking and screaming – to take down violent extremism and hate crimes from its platforms.
Tricky issues like online privacy and personal data ownership are being tackled (mostly in Europe).
But progress is slow.
In the meantime, the internet grows by 2.5 quintillion bytes per day. That’s 2,500,000,000,000,000,000 in case you missed it.
I’ll leave you to guess how much of that data is:
- People selling shit
- People doing dumb shit
- People outraged about shit
- People trying to trick other people into doing shit
The net as we knew it is dead. It’s not coming back.
Sure, we’ll patch up the really broken bits, but it will continue to grow in complexity and the cat-and-mouse game of abusers-vs-regulators will continue.
That doesn’t mean the net is now useless. It just means it’s full of much more shit. We need to switch our default setting from this:
The internet is a source of truth. Trustworthiness is assumed.
The internet is where people – good and bad – share information. Trustworthiness is earned.
Through the Looking Glass
We need to look through the net to the people publishing on it.
The internet is just the medium.
A person (or company/website that is controlled by people) is responsible for the information you’re seeing.
If this person wasn’t on a keyboard in some coding team or garage, if they were instead someone who approached you on the street, you’d want to know who they are and what they want, right?
You’d carefully assess them and what they’re telling you. You’d try to verify everything they said.
That’s how we should be on the internet.
But You’re Taking All the Fun Out of it!
Okay, a little bit. But, only for important stuff.
We can still scroll our socials and believe whatever we like about Justin Bieber’s choice of shoes or Kayne West’s latest spat with who-the-fuck-cares. There’s no real consequences (except our brains shrink a little more and The Beebs and Kayne get a little richer).
But what we believe about social issues and politics matters.
The Internet is not powered by data or money or the need to connect.
The internet is powered by trust.
Without trust, money would stop moving around the net – shopping, banking and trading would wither and die.
Without trust, we’d stop sending our personal details over the net, and we’d be back to lining up at the motor registry, post office and tax office.
And without trust, we couldn’t communicate online – so long social media, email and amazing blogs.
We’d stop trusting what we see and hear. In fact, many of us already have. Oxford University’s Reuters Institute’s annual news report found almost 60% of people said they had lost trust in news altogether.
I Think, Therefore I Know
Just like our stoner-philosopher friend all those years ago, people are questioning what is real. And just like then, the answer remains with our ability to question. To think.
While there is no one devious god perpetrating a grand online deception, there are forces at play that together create a growing deception. Whether those forces be commercial, political or just narcissistic doesn’t matter. The effect is a grand – albeit Frankensteined together, deception.
But the deception is not so great we can’t see through it.
All we need to do is to question and to think.
Who is the person through the looking glass on the other keyboard?
Why do they want my attention?
Do they deserve my trust?
That’s how we’ll take back control of the internet.
Question, think, repeat.
Make ’em work for our trust.
If you missed Part 1, you can backtrack here. Part 2 is here.
If you’re sick of all this depressing shit about the internet, here’s a self-helpy post on beating fear the skydiver way.
Or find our why curious people are happier and healthier.
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