Internet: Good or Evil?

I love the Internet. I spend more time with it than with my family. Wait…is that a good or a bad thing?

Like any powerful tool, the Internet can be extremely useful. If you’re reading this, you probably use it every day. It’s almost not even worth discussing anymore. Almost.

The Internet was born as a beautiful, decentralized, hippy-free platform. It was a great idea that spread and brought with it this ethos, this spirit, that has seeped into mainstream culture. Now, we consider access to the Internet a basic human right. It’s accorded the same status as participation in democracy or even water as an essential component of human life.

But we don’t talk so much about the downsides. Does the Internet contribute to recent massive increases in social anxiety, depresssion, and other mental health issues? Does the Internet fuel winner-take-all globalization such that power inequity and political polarization have risen to unprecedented heights? Does the Internet manufacture a culture of fear, a never-ending identity crisis, or a place where free speech might go too far?

Arguing against the Internet is difficult and futile as arguing against any other technology. If the Internet facilitates black market trade, is the medium or the user at fault?

I try to avoid asigning moral value to human beings, preferring instead to judge actions and intent given context. So assigning fault to the Internet seems kinda silly. Do I support gun control? I really can’t say overall, it depends very much on the specifics. I support control of evil uses of guns, to the extent such control doesn’t conflict with possible good uses. Do you think guns are evil? It’s too simplified, it’s not accurate. Maybe they’ve killed lots of people, but look, cars have killed millions more. Have more powerful weapons led to a decrease in overall violence and warfare?

OK, back to the Internet. It’s here. It continues to evolve. It’s complicated. Sometimes dangerous. And very useful.

Why do I love it? On one level, there’s the dystopian ease of watching Black Mirror on Netflix. The endless email and online chess and social media. Status games, dopamine and oxytocin. This is the level of love/hate.

Then there’s the big picture. Yuval Noah Harari describes in his books how humans have moved beyond biology into an evolutionary phase driven by technology and culture. (He meditates a lot; I trust him.) Just like guns, the Internet poses problems—evolutionary problems, survival problems. By creating new technologies, we force ourselves to work together over time to establish new social norms. We discuss and philosophize, but we also do more. We implement, we legislate, we experiment, we overcome, and we grow. Sometimes it takes a while.

Humans ascended as the dominant species on this planet due to our individual and collective intelligence. The enabler was my favorite technology, language. The Internet simply amplifies and accelerates communication. We can debate our tyranny or benevolent despotism and where it’s headed, but regardless, I’m supremely grateful to be alive today. And I’m excited for tomorrow.

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