|Image c/o GetLucid.net|
While I waited in the hospital for my a-hole keyhole surgery, I had a bit of time on my hands and got to thinking about the internet and its effect on us. We now live in the age of so-called 'Digimodernism' (thanks, Alan Kirby), where, for some reason, it's become acceptable - and often expected - to document almost every waking moment of our existence.
It's a fair enough assumption that one would want to share significant moments in their lives with their family and friends. The meaning of the word 'significant' can vary greatly, however. I can't remember the last time I thought, "Jeez, thank god Karen posted that she just ate a sandwich for lunch. I was beginning to suspect she sourced her energy through photosynthesis. What a fool I feel upon discovering the truth. She is, in fact, not a plant. OMG." Karen's a notorious liar so, in order for people to believe her statement, she also feels the need to upload a photograph of said sandwich. The inclusion of an image was of particular benefit to me as, up until that point, I had never actually seen one before. I mean I knew they were edible but I just assumed it consisted of some sand sprinkled on a potato wedge. The internet really is expanding my horizons.
To be fair, Karen is as innocuous as she is irritating. There are many people who use social networking sites and other online forums for much more malicious reasons. E-bullying and trolling are huge areas of concern both abroad and closer to home - as was elucidated by Leo Traynor's recent encounter with his anti-semetic cyber persecutor. The anonymity shield provided by the internet bestows bravery on pathetic, insecure idiots who have nothing better to do with their time than torment innocent people they've never met and know relatively nothing about.
Online arguments are ten-a-penny and, in the main, entirely harmless - even when one takes Godwin's Law into account. Trolls from 2012 are very different their 1990s namesakes. Although, for all we know, they could well be bulbous, asexual creatures with illuminous spiky hair. Instead of hiding under bridges, they secrete themselves in the bottomless recesses of the internet. They come in all shapes and sizes - at best, they're annoying; at worst, they have the potential to ruin someone's life. They can mock, stalk or ogle an almost infinite number of people. Reddit's 'creepshot' and 'jailbait' sub-forums are paradigms of the latter. This lascivious online behaviour encourages the objectification of women who have often been photographed surreptitiously and many of whom are underage.
The internet connects people in a colossal and unprecedented way - for better or worse. It opens up the entire world for exploration, education and entertainment. It also provides a springboard of unprecedented potential for perverts. As Yeats might say, a terrible beauty is born, photographed, uploaded, tagged, shared, mocked, de-tagged, deleted and posted once more. Once online, always available.
I recently rejoined Facebook for practical reasons following a two and a half year period whereby I was most definitely conspicuous by my absence. Had I died? Been mauled by bears? Returned to my home planet? Without a profile to check, how could anyone possibly know? At one stage there was a somewhat plausible rumour that I never actually existed. I post, therefore I am. I do not post, therefore I am odd.
One can change how they speak and look and, ultimately, who they are when online. I had first-hand experience of this when my South Korean mail-order bride arrived and she was, in fact, a 40 stone guy from Minnesota called Randy to whom I'm now legally bound. I can't complain too much though, we do lol a lot. We're not alone in this regard, either. Initially online abbreviations were for internet use only but now they've infiltrated our spoken vernacular. Many people say the term 'lol' as opposed to actually laughing. I'm sorry but that is just plain weird. So many of us are lolling on a regular basis, Huckleberry Finn would be proud.
If I could pass on one piece of netiquette: the next time you feel the urge to sneeze or wank (verbally or literally) and want to tell the world - don't. Grab a tissue, not your laptop. FFS.
This article was also published on Campus.ie and in Student Independent News, NUI Galway's student newspaper.