This morning, I was reading a review of a book that posits that the Internet has destroyed our ability to memorise and focus, and that spun off into questions about what technology actually offers us. I’m not here to argue against the writer’s suggestions (in fact, as my recent attempts to dig back into reading attest, it’s very likely true), but offer up some ways in which the Internet has enriched my life, sort of as a counterbalance to our loss of focus..
Pre-Internet, the best way to achieve knowledge was to read books and magazines, all of which come with a hefty price tag, and largely assume an interest on part of the buyer before being bought. You might stumble upon an interesting article waiting for a haircut, but typically, people interested in Popular Mechanics would buy that, while others might go for Elle, GQ, a knitting magazine, a boating magazine… You would pay for the privelige to read, unless you happened to be near a library with an extensive collection. That structures class privilege into the acquisition of knowledge, and also makes it more difficult for readers to find new, divergent topics unless they deliberately seek them out.
Without the Internet, I may never have found an early outlet for my writing. For me, it wasn’t satisfying to write stories for myself alone, and I (like most kids) was too shy to start parading my work around the schoolyard to be mocked. But, in elementary school, I uncovered the fanfiction community, and it was fantastic. I was able to build a fanbase from crappy little stories about two characters falling in love who’d never met in the original series, and it really gave me a chance to develop my skills at plotting, dialogue, and writing for an audience. It also gave me one of my first ego boosts. Essentially, the popular fanfiction community is all about ‘ships’ – that is, relationships between characters from a canon. It was especially so back then. I pioneered a seemingly-bizarre ‘ship that, as I rightly noted, turned out wonderful because the characters fit together perfectly, personality-wise, having a potentially great dynamic no-one had taken advantage of. This meant I actually kickstarted a ‘ship that ended up being a midlevel favourite in that readership – simply by writing a few stories, it seemed like I’d had an efffect on the actual pool of stories that was being written! That was all because I saw a potentially great dynamic between two characters and went for it, and I got the gratification of seeing I was right. Without the ‘net, I wouldn’t have gotten any of that.
Without the internet, I would have never figured out what I wanted to do with my life. In high school, I flirted with the idea of TV writing, but it was only when I stumbled upon a link buried in the comments to a blog post that I found the website that would eventually train me and give me really great practice at writing for TV. Five years later, I’m way ahead segments of my classmates, only because I’ve written within the scope of a staff, taken and given edit notes, experimented in different genres, and gone through essentially a mock pilot season. I’ve been edited, I’ve been fired, and I’ve been praised. I’ve had successes and failures where most just have a portfolio of short film scripts. Not just that, I have a network of amateur writers with lots of experience writing in this format, giving me contacts if I ever need notes on a script I’m looking to pitch or include in a portfolio. Without the ‘net, I wouldn’t have that.
Without the internet, I wouldn’t have nearly the appreciation for music I do. I was a kid of the KazAa generation, where the walls between ‘paid’ and ‘free’ music became a moral, rather than a physical, difference. Though I’ve left KazAa and its moral dilemmas behind, it allowed me to access many types of music I’d never have encountered on my own, and engendered a thirst in me that kept me looking. I wouldn’t know most of my favourite artists, who I’ve stumbled on via music blogs: The Pierces, Andrew Bird, My Latest Novel would all be alien to me. I’d still be waiting for the radio to live up to my dreams. And I honestly think that having access to a wide scope of songs, with their varying emotional complexities and stories, has deeply enriched me as a writer, and empowered me to write stories I’d never be able to. Without the ‘net, my cultural life would be a lot emptier.
Without the internet, I wouldn’t be educated in social justice. My interest in Joss Whedon led me to a post on Tiger Beatdown, discussing the kinds of structural sexism that can permeate even women’s subconscious because it is so ingrained into society’s skeletons. I’d always considered myself a feminist, but this was my first real interaction with actual feminism, beyond the “yeah, women are people!” level of thought. It blew my mind. Now, I actually know what structural privilege is, and constantly find myself analysing and acknowledging the privilege I have as a straight-reading, cisgendered middle class white guy in Canada. I’m addicted to TB and this ain’t livin’, the latter of which has given me more food for thought than any book I’ve ever read, with posts on politics, disability, history, mental health and various social justic topics I find fascinating. s.e. smith posts every day, and more remarkable, every post is interesting and informative. Not only that, but without these blogs, I wouldn’t have had the tools to understand when a friend came out to me as transgendered, which could have damaged a wonderful relationship. Without the internet, I’d be yet another privileged white guy with no real sense of the world around me.
Without the Internet, I’d lose contact with my friends. My best friends from Barrie have now dispersed to Ottawa, Kingston, Waterloo, and though they’re largely in southern Ontario, it’s still a day trip to see any one of them. For people with a busy life, it’s hard to make the time, as anyone from the pre-Internet days can attest. Now, though, I can post of folks’ wall without half a thought, and keep an eye on how their lives are going. It’s almost like being in high school together but not having any classes together; you hang out on the occasional lunch break, and keep in contact without seeing each other regularly. In addition to my offline friends, there are so many valuable friendships I’ve built over the Internet. Mentors, fellow writers, chatting buddies. We may not go out bowling, but we can have a two-hour long conversation about music, just like with any friend I can see offline. Without the ‘net, my friend pool would be significantly more shallow.
Without the Internet, I wouldn’t just be a different person. I’d be much less of a person. More introverted, less educated. And I suspect, if I met a version of my who grew up without the Internet, I might want to punch him in the face. The Internet has deeply enriched my life, and I can’t imagine life without it.