How Good is the Internet?

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The internet has collected and codified an inconceivably massive amount of the world’s information, and in doing so it has even had a (conceptual) effect on the physical world. As an overwhelming volume of information is sent from every corner of the world to every other one, the internet allows us to completely bypass physical barriers of communication. My favourite expression of this idea comes from the magnificent Editors’ Note of feeeels Magazine Vol. 1, titled Reality Bites: “As the World Wide Web enters its fourth decade, it is tempting to believe that the world is, in fact, flat. Not in the ways that Reddit’s conspiracy-theorists would argue…, but in how the internet has compressed space, time, and human experience in previously inconceivable ways. The formerly tangible — news, money, letters, photos — move through space with new fluidity and at unprecedented speeds, as if all physical barriers have been leveled.” 

I don’t think that it would be too much of an exaggeration for me to say that I discovered most othe things I know from the internet. The sheer volume of varied information coupled with the incredible accessibility of the almighty Google search makes the internet the world’s primary source of information. What better evidence is there of the significance of the internet? Knowledge is power, after all.

The internet also serves as the most important social and entertainment platform. Over lockdown, I personally found it very useful for staying in contact with friends. There’s also an infinite amount of cool things on the internet that I have, and will surely continue to marvel at for hours on end. For example, I recently discovered one of the best websites I’ve ever had the pleasure of stumbling upon, everynoise.com. It’s a map of thousands of musical genres from all over the world. Clicking on any of the genres plays a short clip of a song from that genre, and if you like what you hear, you can see that genre’s page, containing a map of dozens of artists who work within it. Better yet, you can then click on any of those artists to hear a clip from one of their songs, and as if that wasn’t enough, there’s also a Spotify link to each of their pages, and a Spotify playlist containing all of the songs ascribed to the genre. This website clearly took a ton of effort to create, and it really pays off. So far I’ve sunk hours upon hours into this site, discovering new music and having a great time, and as much as this might feel like a rambling tangent, I think that being able to access things like everynoise is a significant benefit of the internet.

Switching to a more public-interest oriented viewpoint, the internet is also the people’s greatest tool for collaboration. Since the internet permeates the lives of virtually everyone, and since anyone can share any idea on itinternet users can spread awareness about issues and influence actual change.

However, this relies on the assumption that citizens have easy access to the entire internet, and this isn’t always the case. Censorship by powers like the government is a near-impassable roadblock for internet users in many places around the world. Note the use of near-impassable. Naturally, tfurther this discussion we need to talk about Minecraft. Known by all and beloved by many, Minecraft was a global hit upon release and remains relevant to this day. As for why it’s also relevant to this topic, look no further than The Uncensored LibraryThis beautiful monument was created by Reporters Without Borders and Blockworks, and inside are censored articles, transcribed in the form of dozens of digital Minecraft books. Crucially, these articles can be read by anyone with access to Minecraft, including those who live in countries without freedom of the press.  

“Let’s empower the next generation to stand up for their right to information and give them a powerful tool to fight oppressive leaders: knowledge.” 

This is a great example of the internet’s specific potential to encourage collaboration and advocate change. Another more relevant example is how the Hong Kong protesters have been using encrypted apps like Telegram or Bluetooth-based Bridgefy, as well as the anonymous AirDrop feature to discreetly organise pro-democracy protests and communicate during them.

Sadly this potential isn’t always fully realised. In fact, the exact reasons for that potential are the same reasons as to why so many of the disadvantages of the internet existAs I said before, the internet provides a platform for everyone to share any idea they might have. Sure, this includes the idea that freedom of the press should be respected, but it also includes harmful ideas and misinformation. This coupled with the mob mentality of many social media platforms can often lead to serious problems. Even aside from that, it can sometimes seem impossible to organise anything when thousands of contradicting opinions are constantly being broadcast everywhere. These are just a few of the obvious problems with most social media platforms, and delving into more fringe anonymous message boards only reveals more serious issues. And I haven’t even mentioned the dark web…

There’s such a wealth of both advantages and disadvantages to the internet, and I have undoubtedly only scratched the surface in this article. You could really answer the title question with any viewpoint you please, and there will always be sufficient evidence to back your argument up. And so, I must arrive at the fairly anti-climactic conclusion that the internet is neither good nor bad. It’s no more than a tool, and as such, it can be as good as you choose it to be, depending on how you use it. Tor, the same browser that’s used to access the dark web, is also used by many to maintain their right to privacy while using the internet lawfully. In fact, Tor’s mission statement is: “[T]o advance human rights and freedoms by creating and deploying free and open source anonymity and privacy technologies, supporting their unrestricted availability and use, and furthering their scientific and popular understanding.”

Take some time to rethink how you use the internet, and make it the sort of place you want it to be.