Tech

The Whole World in Our Hands

The internet has made me into kind of a brat.

Illustration by Ana.

Illustration by Ana.

In 3,000 BC, when the ancient Greeks didn’t know something, they had to consult an oracle, someone with a direct line to the gods. In 2014, when I have a question, I consult Google, which isn’t actually an oracle but might as well be. The internet has always been there for me to solve any solvable problem or resolve any nagging uncertainty. I have never had to remember the lyrics to a song, printed out a map before leaving my house, or called a telephone number to find out when a movie’s playing. I can probably count the number of times I’ve had to actually speak to a librarian on one hand.

The idea that someone would even own a hardcover dictionary is baffling to me, as are possessing a physical set of encyclopedias, ordering clothing from a paper catalog, and waiting for a newspaper to be delivered to your door. When an imaginary woman named Siri lives on people’s phones, waiting to define words for them, do mathematical equations, figure out the quickest route to wherever they’re going, remind them who does the voice of Linda Belcher, or find the nearest slice of pizza, why would anyone pay money to clog their bookshelves with soon-to-be-out-of-date lists of words or phone numbers or trivia?

I was born in 1994, so I haven’t really known life without the internet. This has mostly been a positive force in my life: The world wide web has given me access to an embarrassment of information and culture from almost any era, instantaneously. For example, I do this radio show, and at least half of the songs I play are MP3s I’ve ripped from YouTube, which are often recordings ripped from vinyl records from people’s beloved personal collections. Many of them are rarities by bands I love, or work by bands I never would have heard of unless someone had decided to post their stuff on the internet (like the Vels, or this song about a crazy poodle by a band called Sis Q Lint). Pretty much everything I wonder about all day long, I have an answer to in seconds, like the location of that one ice cream shop I went to once ages ago and whose name I couldn’t even recall (Davey’s, on First Avenue, near Eighth Street), or where I might find a copy of the ancient Greek novel Daphnis and Chloe online (there are many PDFs available). In olden times, I would have had to consult, at the very least, a phone book, a map, and a real live librarian to find all that information. Ain’t nobody (me) got time for that.

But having all the information in the world literally at my fingertips has had its downsides. For one thing, it’s made me kind of a brat. I expect access to everything, all the time, and I get frustrated when I don’t get it. Remember when Wikipedia was down and kids were tweeting about how they couldn’t get their homework done? Sadly enough, I kind of related to them. There was that incident when I couldn’t complete some English homework in the school library because the computers wouldn’t let me access CliffsNotes (it was blocked for “games” or something—YEAH, GAMES, OK), and the time a Wikipedia page’s sources were dismal and I struggled to find decent source material for a paper on how super PACs are funded (turns out, kinda shadily). A slow Internet connection makes me want to throw my laptop out the window. I am Veruca Salt in the Wonka factory, except the golden eggs are working Piratebay movie downloads because the new Gregg Araki movie hasn’t come out yet but I want to see it NOW.

Has this ever happened to you? You meet someone new, and you’re excited or maybe just curious about them, so you google them as soon as you get home…and there’s nothing. Which can be frustrating when you really want to know more about them. I’ll be the first to admit that I google the hell out of everyone, whether it’s someone I’m about to work with or I just met somebody and want to scope their Instagram life to judge exactly how intelligent they are by which filters they use (oh my god, KIDDING). But in all seriousness, getting deep into someone’s internet presence before you really know them personally isn’t always the coolest move. The cooler thing to do now is to not even be on the internet. I mean, there’s nothing “wrong” with putting your life online or choosing not to do so, but when a 20-year-old doesn’t turn up a single hit on Google, I feel a complex mix of “Huh?” and “Wha?” and “How?!” and “Pics or it didn’t happen” (except in this case I guess it’s like “…or you don’t exist”).

I’m so used to everyone putting their whole entire lives online, myself included. Oversharing is just a silly word to me, at least when it comes to personal information. But there is one place online that I sometimes wish people would hold back a little. I write stuff on the internet (a weird thing to have to tell you in this context), and it often feels as though people who read it feel entitled to say whatever they want to me, in comments or Tumblr Asks or Twitter @s or whatever. I get rude, inappropriate, and just plain asshole-y questions and comments all the time, and when I don’t respond to them, they just get worse.

These interactions remind me of when one of my favorite writers, Kate Zambreno, got into a disagreement (about James Franco!) on Facebook with another writer. Having neither the time nor the desire to really engage in an argument ABOUT JAMES FRANCO, Kate simply unfriended the other writer and went on with her day. The guy took it VERY personally and wrote a mean piece about Kate on a literary blog, in which he said that he had “a right” to have this conversation with her. Why he felt entitled to such a thing from another human being, I don’t fully comprehend, but I think it has something to do with how easy it’s been for all of us, all our lives, to say anything we want, to anyone, anytime, and our comments (and their reponses) will be on full display for all to see, presumably forever and ever. But there’s a difference between insightful debate and rude, invasive questioning. The latter is a good enough reason to cut people off. People can complain about you on the internet as much as they please, but you don’t have to listen to them. Just because you exist in a public space doesn’t mean everyone gets whatever little piece of you they want. Block away, it’s OK!

There’s been a lot of talk lately about trigger warnings, which were invented to help people with PTSD avoid reading or watching things that might take them to a bad place psychologically; in the past five years or so they’ve most often been used to warn people about potentially disturbing content in an article or video online: graphic descriptions of sexual assault or self-harm, for example. But something weird has happened recently, where not only do we want to be told in advance about stuff that might remind us of traumatic events or self-destructive experiences, we want to be forewarned about everything: Is the word rape even mentioned in this article? Does anyone have a mental illness? Is there a homophobic character? Do anyone’s parents get divorced? Getting whatever we want online is no longer enough—now we want it exactly how we want it. College students have even started asking for trigger warnings on their syllabi. We feel entitled to be protected from whatever it is we don’t want to see or hear or read about. I’m not mocking any of these concerns, but at some point, everything in the world will have to be tagged with a warning, which will make such warnings utterly meaningless.

Sometimes the internet is like a comfy couch where everything you might be into (bagels delivered right to your door, the new season of Orange Is the New Black) is easily accessed. But the rest of the world isn’t always so comfy. We learn this when we can’t find what we need online and have to venture out into that world, where “I’m feeling lucky” is just a personal feeling, not a command. ♦

22 Comments

  • aaaannnnaaaaaaa July 7th, 2014 5:32 PM

    ahh hazel – where can i listen to your radio show? xx

  • bonnie.mclovin July 7th, 2014 6:03 PM

    side note: the idea of oracles is so interesting to me

    http://the-green-lighter.tumblr.com

  • rona July 7th, 2014 6:08 PM

    This is an amazing piece, Hazel! I couldn’t agree more. I definitely relate to the whole “brattiness” notion. For example, if my web page takes more than 2 seconds to load I get very impatient and annoyed. It’s a little ridiculous how big of an impact the Internet can have on our lives (and emotions).

  • lizabeth July 7th, 2014 6:14 PM

    My least favorite thing on the internet ever is the phrase “I guess I can’t have an opinion anymore, geez!” (or some variation of that) As if every single thought that passes through our heads, no matter how rude or insulting, should be said out loud–or in this case, on the internet.

    Recently, a dude on Twitter made a condescending comment to my favorite singer about how she “no longer wears shirts on stage anymore” b/c she wears a lot of crop tops. She responded in what I consider a perfectly appropriate way & was attacked for being too defensive.

    Blocking and un-friending people like that is my favorite thing to do ha

  • RatioRae July 7th, 2014 6:24 PM

    I know a lot of people will relate to this, but I’m really glad that I don’t. A great article though. :)

    http://thegirlwhodrankstars.blogspot.com

  • abackwardglance July 7th, 2014 6:44 PM

    “May of them are rarities by bands I love”

    I think “may” is suppose to be “many”

    Anyway, this was a great article Hazel! Hilarious , but also insightful. I agree with you for the most part. On one hand, I do feel like we have a sense of entitlement to being forewarned about certain things. However, I also think its impressive how people are beginning to be warned about certain topics. It means that these topics are seen as real issues and are taken seriously.

  • Abby July 7th, 2014 7:01 PM

    This article is so good and sooo true… I find myself getting super annoyed with my dad’s phone when I have to use it, just because it’s an older (and very slightly slower) smartphone. Yeah… I’m impatient as fuck.

    But I also look at all this a different way. Just the fact that I have access to the information and knowledge of nearly EVERY SINGLE TIME PERIOD and nearly EVERY SINGLE CULTURE at the click of a button is fucking NUTS. Like… I can find out the belief system of any religion, what JFK was wearing the day he was shot, and how old our GODDAMN UNIVERSE IS in the same ten minutes. How crazy is that?? I love the fact that with the internet, I can learn about quantum physics in simple terms (thank you simple wiki), and ACTUALLY GET IT (ish), even though I’ve ever taken a physics course. If I get lost at night, I can find out how to get back home easily, keeping my risk of being attacked down. If I can’t remember how to do long division (which I can’t), I can look it up and learn in five minutes so I can show my hypothetical 3rd grader. The fact that I have that much information at my fingertips is amazing to me. One time I was out somewhere and my sister asked me something and I didn’t know, so I googled it. This older lady rolled her eyes at me, and I was really upset. I think it’s amazing that I can find out anything I want to know so fast. The knowledge of the UNIVERSE is at my fingertips. I’m going to use it.

    Thank you, ~end rant~ lol

  • Carmen July 7th, 2014 7:43 PM

    I was feeling excatly like that today! with my brand new netflix and just after the tecnician installed a more powerful wifi all over my home, I was ready to become a couch-potato and watch cartoons all day. But some unexpected error occured (still didn’t figured out what happend) and couldn’t wacth anything.
    A strange anger possed me, like I could hit someone. Then , believing that the situation has not irritated me, I tried to listen to some music on my ipod, which btw, was without battery.
    on that second I reliase how dependent I was, tell me about frustation!

  • flours July 7th, 2014 8:10 PM

    I love the internet-it’s boundless! I have a little presence on social media, but for the time being especially during my teen years, I guess I’ve just decided to limit my presence mainly because I want to immerse myself in the world outside of twitter, etc. because I think I could grow to regret it. Very interesting and thought-provoking piece, Hazel! There’s so much truth to this article

    http://thestyleunknown.blogspot.com/

  • izizansari July 7th, 2014 9:23 PM

    this is such a great piece. super relatable

  • diana94 July 7th, 2014 9:44 PM

    Aljazeera wrote an excellent piece on trigger warnings and liberalism!

    http://america.aljazeera.com/opinions/2014/6/trigger-warningsbooksptsdhighereducation.html

  • bitcoinbb July 7th, 2014 10:05 PM

    Wow so well spoken! I spend way too much time trying to articulate my feelings about the internet. It’s such a vast topic it’s like looking into a void. I’m definitely a brat about it too, but more in the sense of expecting people to give me the feedback I think I deserve. When really nobody cares that much. I love it and I’m jaded about it all at once. I love the possibilities it opens up but I hate how everything is an advertisement, like your profile is just a giant ad for you. And then people get desensitized to it and standards rise. It’s so complex! I wish it was easier to make friends over the internet and avoid trolls simultaneously.

  • onlyawallflower July 8th, 2014 12:02 AM

    the willy wonka and the chocolate factory reference is just stellar…i can see veruca salt throwing her temper tantrum over a golden egg-laying goose…and this article is both insightful and relevant. i do find myself a little tech spoiled at times and notice this in my generation as a whole–lovely article <3

  • Olivia_Bee July 8th, 2014 7:26 AM

    I couldn’t agree more with this post Hazel! I always end up thinking how our brat like behaviour could end up destroying the things that we like, how if we can always access anything and everything that we love we will become less grateful towards them and eventually things won’t be as special is they should be.

  • mangointhesky July 8th, 2014 8:33 AM

    The internet…

  • Berries July 8th, 2014 3:32 PM

    Very interesting. Reminds me of yesterday, I walked out of a cinema because the content was very disturbing. I’m talking, like, to the max. 21+ stuff, graphic, realistic. I’m thinking about sending an email to the cinema because there was not even a 18+ warning on their website or anything, and the description and trailer did not gave away how gruesome it was, though it did say violence, sex and horror. Would you send an email? Or is this part of life and are they not responsible? Thoughts?

  • whiskeytangofoxtrot July 8th, 2014 4:23 PM

    “Google can bring you back 100,000 answers. A librarian can bring you back the right one.”
    ― Neil Gaiman

  • Anya N. July 9th, 2014 7:44 PM

    trigger warnings have just now started becoming a thing that’s kind of overused, and this is the first article i’ve come across that has brought that up, and i applaud you for that! it’s a controversial topic. but i agree with you. i understand certain things to be tagged as triggers, but at a certain point it becomes excessive. like, people attacking others on the internet (especially tumblr) because the word “die” was hidden somewhere in that 300 word post and the person didn’t bother to tag it “death mention tw” is a little bit much for me. like you were kind of saying, if you go out into the real world, people aren’t going to say “death trigger warning, i might say the word ‘die’ so plug your ears” before they start a sentence. it’s important to be respectful on the internet but it’s also important to be realistic. don’t get lost in another world on your computer, i guess.

  • ♡ reba ♡ July 11th, 2014 4:35 PM

    haha i like this!! one of my old media teacher used to scream at us about how lucky we are to have boundless information in our pockets, he would say if we wanted to know anything about anything we should take advantage and look it up and just learn everything about anything without leaving our seats. but i do feel i will give up on some homework if the answer isn’t right there right now!!!

  • tuesdayfinn July 15th, 2014 1:03 AM

    i for one don’t see why everyone complains so much about trigger warnings as if it’s such a big deal to put one! like, you don’t know that person’s reasons for wanting one, you can’t assume the severity of their reaction, you really cant speak for anyones experiences or knowledge of what their needs for feeling safe are except your own.

    if a person says they want a warning for some kind of content it’s not hard to just do it so they feel safe, 9 times out of 10 that is all people want!!

    trigger warnings are not some BIG SOCIAL JUSTICE CENSORSHIP CONSPIRACY, it’s just a way for people (many w/ mental illnesses, namely things involving flashbacks to trauma/intrusive thoughts/anxiety etc) to make themselves feel more safe, and a way you can help that person feel safe is to respect them by listening to them when they say “i am triggered by this and i need you to do this”. it’s not “bratty”, it’s just coping skills!

    and saying that the content is something you can’t avoid “in real life” isn’t a helpful excuse cause!! it’s not up to you to decide how that person deals with their anxiety!!

    you can’t possibly know how that person deals with things in their day to day life it shouldn’t rly be an interview process just help em out!! if i have a friend with a fear of something that seems pretty commonplace, i might not understand that fear or think it’s pretty irrational but i still want to do all i can to help my friend out and if that means tagging something specific for them on tumblr, that’s a totally easy thing to do!!

    putting trigger warnings is v low-effort is all :^)

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