I’ve been thinking about the world I remember before the internet, and the world I know now. We are a people forever changed by a world made so much smaller. We are connected, with the vastness of human experience and knowledge at our fingertips. Interconnected humanity is like a new creature, huge and powerful. And like any living thing, interconnected humanity must have a life cycle: birth, childhood, adolescence, adulthood, and death.
Think about the mid 90s, and what The Internet looked like. The Internet struggled to find a common language. Static websites dotted the surface of the landscape, experimental and naive. Like an infant learning to lift its head, we toyed around with different browsers. We could see the potential of The Internet, but we needed more infrastructure and more language before that potential could be realized.
A few years later, search engines started to appear on the web, making it easier to find each other. Bandwidth began to grow. The earliest web applications were born, and more dynamic content started to show us what we might one day do with The Internet.
Just before the year 2000, The Internet entered a period of stunning growth. New businesses came into being. The Dot Com Era sprang up, like a toddler taking its first steps. And like the toddler, we fell a few times while we were learning to walk.
Now, we have greater sophistication. We have Google and Amazon and other business models that could never have existed before The Internet. The Internet is like The Force, surrounding us and binding us together. It’s on our phones. It’s in the air. We are all connected, all the time, talking, texting, typing. Young adults today have never known a time when The Internet didn’t exist. We, the living, breathing creature that is made up of human beings, with a nervous system constructed out of wire and TCP/IP, must surely be in our adulthood now, right?
I don’t think so. The Internet is amazing, sure, but we still obsessed with boobs and cat videos. If I was to place an age on us, I would say we’re in our early teens at the oldest.
Internet porn is not the only evidence. Look at the way we interact with each other. Look at the comments on YouTube videos.
“But Brian,” you say, “That’s YouTube. Of course the comments there are going to be immature. The target audience of YouTube is a younger crowd.”
Okay, then look at the comments on political news articles. Or, if you want to retain faith in humanity, DON’T look at those comments. What you’ll find there is close-minded, bigoted, hateful name calling and vitriol. That’s from both the right and the left.
Interconnected humanity is not a terrible creature. We are just young. We haven’t learned to play well with each other. Like children, we’re prone to hyperbole and tantrums. Like children, we reduce complex issues into black and white, right or wrong, binary thinking. We can be sweet, but we’re often self-absorbed, lacking the maturity required to be consistently considerate.
We are learning. We are discovering that we have strength, and can change the world when we focus. We have inclinations towards addressing social issues, though we may not always agree on how to talk about those issues, or how to solve the problems. Though we still have more work to do, we should be amazed at we’ve managed to do already. We’re slowly but surely getting better at accepting each other’s differences.
We still have a ways to go, but I’m hopeful. I look at us and I believe we will get better. We will mature. And what amazing things will we do then?