The Internet: Part III

This is the final piece in a series focusing on the internet, submitted by Asher Lovy.

 

While the internet can be a positive outlet for those in need of one, one must always be aware of the possible downsides of being an internet person. Whether we like it or not we must function in the real world. The internet is simply an escape for when we seek an alternative, but reality is the real world. Not the internet. As such we must be careful not to, in the process of seeking an escape from the real world, destroy our ability to function within it.

There are two primary dangers inherent in the internet. The first being withdrawal from mainstream society. The second is the influence that one’s internet persona has over their real world persona. Let’s examine the first problem. In part II we discovered the reasons why an internet person becomes an internet person. They seek an escape of sorts, a retreat from a society they believe they cannot function within. Take vacation as an example. A person feels stressed out from day to day life so they take a cruise to the Caribbean. They come back refreshed and energized, ready to tackle the real world again. That is how a retreat should work. That is not, however, how it always does work. Occasionally a vacationer will become so enamored with his vacation spot that he will remain there for years, content in leaving his previous life behind. This may work for a Caribbean cruise; the internet, however, is not the Caribbean.

As the internet person becomes more and more attached to the internet and the community he has found there, he begins to detach himself from reality. The real world becomes a nuisance; a bothersome necessity to be indulged as little as possible. The internet person comes to hate the real world for intruding upon his newfound “reality”. As this attitude takes stronger hold within him, his social skills begin disappearing; his ability to interact with real people and real situations begins to shrivel and die. The internet is all that drives him. He spends his day wishing he could return to its loving embrace; wishing he could return to the place where he is truly understood and appreciated. This would be acceptable if not for the fact that the internet cannot keep a person alive; if not for the fact that the real world is in fact a necessity whether the internet person would like to admit it or not. Losing the ability to interact in the real world is losing the ability to live.

The other concern is the idea of your internet persona influencing your real world persona. Everyone has an internet persona, from your recreational user to your habitual gamer, we all have them. In some cases the internet persona is actually better than the real world persona. In such cases influence may be desirable; however, most of the time the opposite is true. People tend to lose their inhibitions online. Your average person will admit to swearing more liberally, being more lewd and suggestive, and in general being a more callous person online. It’s quite understandable really; the internet provides the perfect shield of anonymity behind which one can hide. This lessens their inhibitions and their sense of morality. For most people however, the influence is minimal. They spend maybe an hour or two online, not enough time to really influence their real world personas.

The internet person on the other hand, spends so much time with their alter ego that they place their real world persona in jeopardy. Think back to high school or college, to that cool guy who everyone looked up to for living on the edge. How many people do you think he influenced? How many people tried to emulate him; to be more daring and rebellious? Your internet persona is that guy. It is the guy you wish you could be; free, uninhibited, cool, and carefree. As you spend more and more time with it you begin to wish you could be more like it. It says what it wants, it gets what it wants, and it always has a good time. Slowly it begins to bleed into your real world persona, making you less inhibited. You begin to swear more, you are more likely to make a crude joke, and you become less sensitive. The change is gradual so most people don’t see it in themselves, but it’s there. Pay attention to feedback you get from friends and family.

Depending on the community you choose to identify with online, the change in your persona may range from positive to extremely negative. The beauty of the internet is the anonymity it provides. A person who may be repulsive in real life is suddenly accepted online as if they were Miss Universe because the internet is anonymous. The level of influence is directly related to the level of anonymity of the community you choose.

Suppose you choose a community like eBaumsworld to be a part of, plenty of opportunity for negative influence there. In all likelihood you would be influenced negatively by your persona on that site, however not as much as you would be influenced by your 4chan persona. eBaumsworld requires an account with a profile. While the information used to make that account may be false, you still identify with that profile, putting a piece of your real self into it. You care about your standing in the eyes of the community because of that profile. You feel, as a real person, what that profile feels. If the community hates that profile you will feel hated. Conversely if the community loves that profile you will feel loved. As such you retain some of your inhibitions as your real persona is affected by this fake online persona.

4chan requires no account or profile. This gives you total and complete anonymity without any reprisal. Since you have no profile to identify with you are totally uninhibited, allowing yourself to do and say things that you wouldn’t in real life or even on eBaumsworld. There is no accountability. This is where the danger is most inherent, where you can become the “free” person you always wished you could be in real life with no restrictions or accountability. You run free, doing and saying whatever you want to, all the while influencing your real world persona. Assuming you could live online and never need the real world this would not be a problem, however reality dictates that the real world is a necessity, as is the ability to operate within its boundaries.

The internet can be as great a tool for positive change as it can be for negative change. Personally I have seen both during my time on the internet. I have seen people become better through the internet, and I have seen others deteriorate to the point where I want nothing more to do with them. Be careful with the internet. It can be dangerous.


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