I have to wonder what we would do without the Internet.
And at the same time, I can’t say I’m all that thrilled at what we choose to do with it.
I remember when I first started using the Internet way back in 1995. Well, I say “way back” but it wasn’t even 25 years ago. My wife and I got an AOL account and in those days it was all dial-up access and AOL charged by the minute.
Sometimes it was difficult to luck onto a free line to sign in. And once online you didn’t want to log off for fear that you couldn’t get back on. We quickly found out those minutes added up. I recall AOL bills for $200 or more.
Then came broadband and lower-cost direct access. For a fixed price you could stay on line hours and hours.
There’s good and bad in that.
The Internet is, in one sense, a vast free library. So many books, newspaper archives, scholarly papers, public records and the like are just a Google search and a click away. All sorts of information that would have been out of reach in the past unless you were willing to make a trip to larger cities to do research.
That’s great. It’s probably the thing I most enjoy. Of course, you have to be careful about the sources you rely on. There is a lot of questionable material out there. And opinion disguised as fact. But I find it pretty easy to navigate the hazardous path.
With the advent of streaming video I can find obscure feature films, old TV shows and documentaries that I had heard about but could only dream of seeing just a few years ago.
The Internet is a global marketplace, too. You can find just about anything you want or need—and a lot of stuff you may not want and certainly don’t need.
I do my banking mostly online. I manage investments online. I pay all my bills online. It saves me time and I never have to worry about getting the check in the mail before the due date.
All of that is good. And the bad?
Well, in the old days spam was the big thing. Scammers using unsolicited email that used to fill up inboxes. It was annoying.
Now? Social media and smartphones. Both can be good and both have their places. But how we choose to use them can be more aggravating than spam ever was.
Let’s get real. No one needs to be connected 24/7. No one is that important. You don’t have to have your phone out while driving or walking down the sidewalk or in some store. And not at the dinner table either at home or at a restaurant. It’s just plain rude.
We survived generations without staring at phones all the time. Heck, there was a time when you had to pull over and find a pay phone if you wanted to make a call. These smartphones can be great. But they also distance us from people on a human level. They keep us connected at a distance but they disconnect us personally at the same time.
Social media is much the same. It’s great for keeping up with friends and family but it also divides us along so many lines—especially when it comes to politics. There are a lot of angry folks on Facebook. And being able to broadcast just about anything online makes some people downright mean and abusive. There’s little regard for truth or facts and a lynch mob attitude as well. These days most of social media is a toxic cesspool—one of our own making.
The question is whether we will refuse to play in the mud or continue to wallow.
I would hate to give up all that’s good about the Internet. It would make some parts of my life a lot more difficult.
But I have no problem limiting what I do with my smartphone and staying as far away from the toxic territories of social media as I can. That last part especially is getting easier every day.