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The Internet! How Does It Work?

So I was at SkepTech this last weekend and it was wonderful. Great people, and lots of extremely interesting talks. But one thing that’s kind of getting to me is how we keep asking “well how does the internet change this?” or “is the internet positive or negative?” Inevitably, every single time that gets asked, the answer is “well sometimes it helps and sometimes it hurts and it really depends on who’s using it and we have to be careful to self-police and make sure that we’re using it appropriately”. I’m a little confused about why we feel we have to keep rehashing this.

The internet is a tool. We use that tool to continue enacting the basic human drives that we already have. Just like we have always used tools and technology to continue doing basic human things: entertainment, communication, building relationships, finding food and goods, being assholes, being kind…The internet lets us do human things. We don’t use it to suddenly accomplish non-human goals or act in non-human ways. We haven’t suddenly started using the internet to asexually reproduce, or to breathe underwater.

What the internet DOES allow us to do is to do things more quickly and across more space than we have been able to in the past. In general, humans on the internet have the same goals as humans in meatspace. They try to connect with each other. They try to defend their positions and keep themselves safe. They try to gain things like power or goods. Basic human things. Just bigger.

So why are we still debating whether or not the internet is positive or not, or how it impacts human behavior? Every time we get more evidence about it we find that maybe it makes things a little more intense, or people feel more comfortable in the anonymity of the internet, but society in general is moving towards some of these things already, regardless of the internet. Why do we feel that a new technology will change human nature? We’ve seen this kind of uncertainty and fear about new technology every time one is introduced, and never has it really changed the course of human nature that fully. I’m far more interested in what it will make us capable of and what it might normalize for us, rather than talking about whether it’s good or bad. We can use any tool for positive or negative ends. Let’s look at the capabilities of the tool instead of its moral nature.

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Olivia is a giant pile of nerd who tends to freak out about linguistic prescriptivism, gender roles, and discrimination against the mentally ill. By day she writes things for the Autism Society of Minnesota, and by night she writes things everywhere else. Check out her ongoing screeds against jerkbrains at www.taikonenfea.wordpress.com

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