In April of 1994 I got my first internet account.
No I wasn’t the first kid on the block. But the options were pretty limited in those days. You had local Bulletin Boards, which you had to have the actual correct phone number for your modem to dial into, or there were usenet groups, or brand spanking new were things like AOL, Compuserve and Prodigy Online. Not entirely the internet as we know it now, but some semblence there of. You could build a website at AOL … oh I remember corporate businesses and celebrities having AOL addresses (Oprah had an AOL address in those days).
But I was on Prodigy Online, a free install disc in the mail, my sister in law’s boyfriend installed it for me over Christmas, but I poked and puttered with it a bit, but it didn’t really ‘catch’ me. Then I happened on a room where I made a few connections with like minded and interesting people. And an internet addiction was born. I was a social person, always have been, but socially awkward, and a young suburban mom, in an abusive relationship and … I didn’t get out much, didn’t have many friends. For a ‘shut in’ like me it was a glorious discovery.
The technology was moving fast in those days, and my life with it. It wasn’t long before my second internet romance broke up my marriage (or that’s the tale if you listen to my ex tell it). I was out on my own, with a painfully outrageous Prodigy bill following me, so I moved on to unlimited dial up ISP services, and a second phone line because I had a ‘telecommuting job’, but the boredom of pizza order phones, and the excitement of online friends in IRC (internet relay chat) undernet chat rooms was too great and the job went away. My life went on and undernet was there for a long time. However time moves on and so did I.
I finished school, started work, there was little time for hanging around in chat rooms waiting for people I knew to wander by. Another bad, failed internet relationship later I had a LiveJournal account, and I entered the Blog-o-sphere. It was a good place for me. My friends were there, we could talk and follow each other’s lives without having to wait for one another to pop into a chat room. Oh yeah there were memes and quizzes and non content, but for the most part we wrote opinion, we wrote about what was happening in our lives and we shared. I think still LiveJournal is still where I’m most comfortable. Still around this period of 2003-2010 everyone was getting a blog, everyone was talking, anyone with an opinion could freely express it, and it was wonderful, no longer could minority opinion be suppressed, no longer was information hidden, everyone was sharing. The artistic freedom was amazing.
Still, life and technology changes and blogs went from communities to self publishing. Every nutter no matter how nuts could shout out their theory and ideas without ever having to establish any basis of knowledge or vetting of reputation or even grounding in rationalization. And along came Facebook and Twitter and sound bite socialization. I can’t say I liked it much. However it was bright and shiny and there were a handful of friends and family I cared for deeply that I only saw there. I always viewed LiveJournal as my home, it was my base, my space, and my voice, and those who commented were friends invited in for tea or coffee and cake and a chat. Facebook was like the coffee shop on the corner of a busy street, I’d see a lot of people I kinda knew passing by and I’d wave and give a shout hello, and sometimes one of those friends and family I really liked would stop by my cafe table and chat for a bit. Groups became like the social clubs we used to join.
Thing is cosmopolitan cities have gotten harder and harder for me as I’ve gotten older. I prefer my quiet space in the country. The noise and the excitement and the hustle and bustle of the busy world is fun for a while, but eventually I need the simplicity of my home and my friends and to turn off the TV and avoid the world out there.
The world is becoming an increasingly mad place daily. Everyone with a cause to spout is spouting it. Used to be to get published you had to have a publisher, you had to break in with credentials and talent and you had to show you knew what you were talking about. That did keep some ideas and knowledge from being published, but it kept the crazy stuff to a minimum. Oh sure some got through, Timothy Leary managed to find himself an outlet or two. The thing was we got used to more or less trusting what we read or heard on the news, we knew publishers and journalists to at least take some care with their research so we didn’t have to go to the library and do the research ourselves. The great blessing of the free flowing of information has also become a curse. (McLuhan … I don’t know if he’s rolling over in his grave, or doing a head desk, or just rolling his eyes saying “I told you so”, but yeah, he told us so.) Problem is most of us have grown up in a world where we trust what we read has been vetted, and so now we share it with impunity because we’re social creatures. Every nutter with an internet connection can throw up a page or a blog with a couple ads and self referencing references and shares it and the more outrageous the idea the more we’re inclined to share it because it outrages us.
The ZenMastr said to me, back in 2003 or so that “anything sufficiently cool will ultimately be discovered by the masses and ultimately ruined. All of us who have something worthwhile to say should just leave the internet to the masses and go back to 128 bit encrypted languages.” Yeah he could be arrogant like that, it was one of his charms, but there are days I think he was right.
Facebook has given me the wonderful opportunity to do a lot of good in the world and I love the work I do and the people I do it with. I also hate it. I hate the noise to signal ratio. The sheer volume of the noise and misinformation and people sharing what they believe honestly and truly to be ‘truth’ without reading, understanding, appreciating or even discussing these ideas. There’s no room for discussion in the noise any more. Trying to stem the tide of crazy shouting protests in my news feed and in my life is exhausting. Yeah, I I can be arrogant like that, but it’s one of my charms. Yet to do the work I do requires me to be here, and not just be here but participate with people.
The time will come, and I wonder how far off perhaps, when even so, I’ll retire from Facebook and the noise and abandon my table in this giant coffee shop of the internet and retire home here to my LiveJournal and personal blog and …. you know you’ll always be welcome to stop in and have a coffee and a cake here with me. I keep wanting to retreat further and further from the world not because I’m afraid of some big bad mega menace out there, but because I’m tired of the noise of the people warning me about the big bad mega menace out there.
However, if I can leave you with one small bit of advice, it’s this: don’t trust anything you read on the internet. The other day I was doing a quick little research on “How Many Seed Companies Does Monsanto own?” and the first two pages of google results, all self referenced the original, incorrect and misleading headline. How many of us have time to read and reference and research into page 3 or 4 of google in answer to ANY meme we’ve seen on the internet? This is how misinformation spreads like a virus – we hear 4000 times a day about how vaccines have mercury in them and cause autism or how contrails are the government controlling our minds with chemicals, or how corn is gonna give us all brain cancer and turn us into zombies, we hear it enough times it seeps into our brains, and without educating ourselves differently it becomes part of our mindset. In the 50s’ socially we trusted our government and our corporations, then the 60′s and 70′s happened and we learned we couldn’t trust them, and the 80′s happened and we learned we couldn’t trust each other, by the 2000′s we trusted no one, and now we’re all busy screaming at each other about how we’re all out to get each other and. We’ve (as a society) become almost schizoid, the science and the research and the technology that we developed to help protect ourselves from the things we didn’t know are the very things we don’t trust today. As the joke went way back when “ridding the world of every single substance known to have ever caused cancer in rats, only means we’ll soon be confronted by a lot of healthy robust rats”. The nice thing about knowing the world is on a collision course with hell via a handbasket? It’s easy to say ‘f**kitall, lets just relax and enjoy life’. Maybe that’s the real lesson of having grown out of the 80′s, we were all on a collision course with our deaths because we lived in the shadow of the bomb, but then we grew up and realized there was no joy in excess either.
I believe there is good in trying to live ethically, but I also know that you cannot fight and win every battle out there. You only make yourself, and others, crazy trying. I believe that science and technology are good for me, that the world and the universe have learned a few things in the last 40 years, and that if a subject is really truly important enough a fight for me to want to fight it, I need to go out and learn and research and understand and stop shouting made up soundbites at my nieghbours.
Oddly enough the thing that IS truly important enough for me to want to fight it is the cause of misinformation, which means I’m pretty much living in a state of perpetual annoyance. So this is me, stopping to take a deep breath. I can’t fix the world, I can’t fix the misinformation in it, I can’t even fix the misinformation that comes across my own news feed. So this is me, stopping to take a deep breath. This is me taking a step back and saying “nope, I don’t believe one single meme, or argument or outrage you’ve passed along in the spirit of “omg someone has to stop this!!” So this is me, stopping to take a deep breath. Going back to my life here at home, in my own four walls, and my own family, and my own work, and my blog and journals. Maybe it makes me a bit of a coward, but ya know I was never a revolutionary, I was never one for causes or tilting at windmills or being a radical, I was, am, and always will be the diplomat, trying hard to see all sides and hear all voices and looking for moderation.