I marvel at the capabilities of the Internet as much as anyone. Instant access to a world’s worth of information is fantastic. The ability to connect with friends and family blows my mind. The entertainment value of indulging hobbies and interests anytime is incredible.
However, as the Spiderman franchise reminds us,”with great power comes great responsibility” and this couldn’t be more true in the age of the Internet. Where the power of connecting online provides us with immense opportunities to grow as individuals (and as an online community), there are also opportunities for us to do more harm than good to ourselves.
I recently stumbled upon two enlightening stories: one of the late Roger Ebert and the other of the danger of instant gratification and what it means for our future. The former is a shining star example as to the capabilities of our online universe and the latter, a black hole of the deep and sometimes dark realities of the online world.
In his powerful 2011 TEDTalk entitled Remaking My Voice, Roger Ebert speaks to a captive audience through the help of his friends, family, and his Apple computer. The late American film critic battled cancer since 2002, resulting in the removal of his lower jaw that left him unable to speak. A man who spent his entire life communicating about films to worldwide audiences was suddenly rendered speechless. As he reveals in his talk, without the power of online social networks he would have felt alone and cut off from the outside world. Roger states that “it is human nature to look away from illness. We don’t enjoy a reminder of our own fragile mortality. That’s why writing on the Internet has become a lifesaver for me. My ability to think and write have not been affected. And on the Web, my real voice finds expression… I am writing as well as ever. I am productive. If I were in this condition at any point before a few cosmological instants ago, I would be as isolated as a hermit. I would be trapped inside my head. Because of the rush of human knowledge, because of the digital revolution, I have a voice, and I do not need to scream.” This is utterly amazing to me. Roger Ebert was a shining star and showed the world the good that can come from engaging in online social networks.
On the other hand, an article in The American Scholar entitled Instant Gratification, asks the important question: “As the economy gets ever better at satisfying our immediate, self-serving needs, who is minding the future?” The article sheds light on an a Seattle rehabilitation centre for Internet gaming addicts called reSTART that helps individuals controlled by their online lives. Where Roger’s life has been saved through connecting online, reSTART patients’ lives have been changed for the worse through the same basic action of connecting online. The author ends the article by stating “were we serious about interrupting our self-driven downward spiral, we would start by recognizing the limits—social and personal as well as economic—of an ideology that prioritizes immediate gratification and efficient returns over all other values.” The bigger picture is at stake and it’s our job to recognize and act on this knowledge.
The Internet provides us with the tools and capabilities to be our best selves or our worst selves. Connecting online can be used for good or for evil and self awareness of this truth will help keep us grounded in what’s most important to each of us.