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The Carletonian

The Carletonian

Talking quickly, not sensibly

<ir="ltr">When the adjectives “crotchety,” “cantankerous,” “grumpy,” and “judgmental” take hold of my personality (and they often do), I find myself agreeing with the other old farts who declare, with dolorous self-certainty, that if you look at the Internet and the way people use it, we as a species are on the decline. Young people, that is, us, spend our time skating on the surface of a million worlds without ever once plunging deep. Or else, we plunge so deeply into a world of our choosing that we forget the rest exist. In such moments I nod knowingly at my geriatric companions and bemoan the ways “the youth” prefer variety to understanding, and novelty to knowledge.

There are many ways human shallowness expresses itself in our modern world: the constant whizz-bang nothingness of 24-hour cable news, fast food culture, diet fads, Donald Trump. In a hyper-complex world, we crave ease and convenience; if not simplicity in material, then at least bite-size portions. Nothing, though, feeds this natural tendency towards shallowness better than the immediacy and reactivity of the Internet. There are now buttons from Amazon for items like laundry detergent and paper towels that are meant to be put up in houses so that when a customer needs one of these items, all they have to do is press a button and it will be delivered to their door. In the instance of wanting something, the Internet steps in and satisfies the need. Naturally, it follows that media consumption on the Internet tracks with these trends, so that the things we want (cute photos of cats, pictures of friends, celebrity gossip, pornography) are always at our fingertips. All of this is to say that the Internet is, to use a heavy-handed metaphor, a big pool where we spend most of our time in the shallow end.

The shallowness of our Internet selves does not mean that we as people have become shallower. People are still as complex as they have ever been – they might even be more complex than ever before, as ideas are more readily accessible, shareable, and translatable. But there are certainly ways that the Internet keeps us from expressing our complexity, and maybe even encourages us to hide it. The design of social networks and the nature of Internet sharing encourages a certain type of representation and interaction that is, on the whole, shallow. These forms of communication and consumption promote impulsive decisions fueled largely by unconscious cognition or base emotions. You tweet declarative phrases, lacking the room for nuance. You read tweets and immediately respond angrily, foregoing reflection. You look at a million headlines and read one article. You take a selfie. You share a cat photo.

It should be noted that any medium of communication can be shallow, and that whatever shallowness we see on the Internet is available in books, movies, and even in conversation, but with the Internet it is just easier. Texting, Twitter, Snapchat, Facebook – all are platforms that are incredibly fast and feed off of the intoxication of speed. The fact that the content of the Internet is shallow is really more of a design problem about the way we access the Internet than a problem inherent to the Internet itself.

After all, the Internet has done astounding things to improve the lives of many people. When, on sunny days, I abandon my jaded stance, I can reflect on the incredible power of idea sharing that the Internet makes possible, and I can appreciate how the same reactive speed that turns social media into one-sided shouting matches has helped highlight acts of oppression so that, one day, justice might be served. As with everything, there are good aspects and bad aspects to the Internet, but that does not mean we can’t reimagine how we use it.

The Internet provides us with a miraculous means of connecting with each other; we just have to decide what it is we want to do with that connection, and to what end

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