Saturday, July 7, 2012

Is Social Media Destroying the Internet?

I have a love/hate relationship with Facebook. 

Don't get me wrong, I love that it's given introverts like me a chance to connect with people.  I've made some pretty enduring friendships through Facebook, and I get all sorts of news and recipes and everything else from it.  So it's really cool, in some ways. 

But the thing with Facebook is it's single-handedly destroying the Internet, or at least turning it into something unrecognizable. 

I remember when I first got online.  It was 1998.  We had a 56k modem and used America Online.  My first-ever email account was with Go.com.  I remember Geocities, and ICQ,and Pogo and web forums that didn't bump when you posted in them.  I remember Runescape and Furcadia and Avidgamers.  All of those things are gone now, replaced with shinier, fancier things, but I miss them. 

The thing about the Internet is that it used to be anonymous.  It used to be a place where geeks and misanthropes could gather and be somebody else for a little while.  You could act differently online than you did in real life, and it didn't matter.  In fact, everybody expected you to.  When you met people online, it was okay to be sort of flirty with them, or act silly.  If you had a big melt-down, it wouldn't have any effect on anything important -- you could just leave the site, or change your username and start all over.  Soon enough, it'd all be forgotten.  You could spill your heart out on the page of your LiveJournal and feel reasonably comfortable that nobody was really reading it.

Sure, that anonymity allowed some real creepers to exist online.  But it also made the Internet a safe haven for people who wanted to get away from the real world, where actions didn't have consequences and you could be anything you wanted to be.  There were unwritten rules among people online that none of it really "counted."  There were things that you could and couldn't say, lines that you intuitively knew not to cross.  There was real life, and there was the Internet, and things didn't cross from one realm into the other without pretty serious planning. 

And then social media happened. 

Suddenly, the Internet wasn't the home of geeks and misanthropes any more.  Or at least, not just geeks and misanthropes.  All of these other people were online, interacting with you, and they broke all the rules. 

Now the things you do online have consequences.  Employers can fire you for things you say on Twitter.  If you flirt with somebody on Facebook, everybody you know will see you doing it.  If you have a public melt-down about anything at all, people will remember it, and it'll be attached to your name forever whether you like it or not. 

More and more websites allow you to connect via Facebook.  I can login to Gaia from Facebook.  I wouldn't be surprised if you can login to Neopets, too.  Hell, even all the Blizzard games have their "Real ID" that links your game to...y'know...you.  When you read things, or buy things, or do nearly anything, Facebook knows.  Anonymity is a myth.  The Internet is suddenly the most public place in the whole world, and it never forgets. 

Now where are you supposed to go to be somebody else?  

I'm not necessarily advocating being a douche online, or falsifying your identity or hiding behind the mask of the Internet to avoid interacting with real people.  I'm just saying, sometimes it's nice to be able to say or do things that you can't get by with in real life, to blow off steam or just take a break from being yourself.  Y'know, Carnivale and Halloween and all of those other masquerades for fools.  That place used to be the Internet, but I just don't think it is any more. 

So, anyway.  Is it just me?  Or do other people have some nostalgia for the "old" Internet?

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