Before there was a World Wide Web, there was Usenet: a distributed forum and archive* that was designed for academia.
The freshmen who flooded Usenet groups each fall were reined-in and taught the ropes by established users. But, that noble task became impossible in September 1993. That was the month when “America Online” granted Usenet access to its customers.
The September that never ended
Recalling the parable of “Eternal September” is my admission that the Internet has been on the supposed road to ruin since before the World Wide Web was even born. Of course, the web was never a utopia and I don’t believe that it should be one.
Nevertheless, I do believe that the Internet is becoming a tool that is used to divide, to misinform and to escape reality. There are many scapegoats, but modern-day poisons like social media are merely a new form of an old disease: addiction.
In the last two decades, America has suffered a staggering rise in alcohol consumption, methamphetamine use, obesity, gambling, consumer debt, prescription drug abuse, political polarization, overdose deaths and suicide.
This rise in compulsive, self-destructive behavior predates the web, but the Internet is where those suffering from mental illness are spending an increasing amount of time. Meanwhile, technologists are actively trying to exploit this sickness for profit.
Addiction is a contagious disease
If something is addicting, it will ultimately result in anger, denial, double-standards, intolerance, contrarianism, trickery, intransigence, negligence and gaslighting. Those who’ve lived with an addict know these forms of emotional abuse.
But, the side effects of this abuse aren’t easily predicted.
A child with an alcoholic parent may grow up to shun alcohol as an adult, yet become addicted to seeking the love and attention of unavailable persons. Meanwhile, an available person, like a child, may turn to video games or social media to cope with the reality of having a cold and unloving parent. And so the cycle continues.
Sharing a digital household
When we visit Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, Reddit, comment sections and forums, we make ourselves vulnerable to emotional abuses that we carry into our offline lives. And what we do (or avoid doing) in our offline lives is reflected in our online behaviors.
Grant me the serenity…
I cannot “fix” other people, therefore, I cannot fix the web. But, if I’m courageous enough to admit my own shortcomings, I can work toward fixing myself. Maybe the web will get better as a result.
*Google acquired the Usenet archive in 2001, and after letting it languish for more than a decade, rendered it unsearchable in 2015.
This is one of several ways that Google has ruined the Internet.