It’s all different now. That the Internet has fundamentally changed our lives is a well-worn truism. But if you’re a younger member of society--say, someone born in the 1980s--you probably don’t realize just how big that change has been. If you count yourself among that group, I’m writing to you today. Let’s take a stroll through the winding path of recent history and examine the wonders that Silicon Valley and the Gurus of Tech have gifted our civilization.
Let’s start with the most basic item in the modern person’s high-tech arsenal: the smart phone. We’re all used to being harassed non-stop by this Box of Chatter with its bings, buzzes, bells, and beeps. We swim in an ocean of constant contact and ambient awareness supplied to us through text notifications, tweets, status updates, and Instagram snaps. But just a few short decades ago, only CEOs of major corporations could experience such levels of communication saturation, never being far from a multi-line corporate telephone, an answering service, a car phone, or a corded telephone in the executive suite bathroom of an upscale hotel. Yes, there was a time when this sort of info glut was reserved for society’s elite. Thanks to the democratizing influence of the Internet, we’re all members of this once-exclusive realm, participating equally in the exhaustion of a world that won’t shut up. Ever.
We were once islands of interest, alone in our peculiar fascinations. If you liked to sew dresses for dogs, it was easy to feel unique, imagining that no one else had your kind of creativity. Surely, no one else had the foresight to fill a niche for canine haberdashery. Or maybe you imagined that no one else shared your penchant for the guns and militaria of pre-industrial Croatia. You were alone, constantly scouring libraries, magazines, and books for any mention of the subject. When you found one, it was like discovering a treasure--one that only you could appreciate. No longer.
The miracle of the Internet allows you to join up with others who share your unusual views and interests. While you might not have been brave enough to satisfy your white supremacist urgings by attending a Ku Klux Klan rally in person, you can join your like-minded brothers remotely with nothing more than a dusty laptop and a modest Internet connection through your cable company. Not only has the Internet given us a way to deal with the social anxiety of appearing in person with our ideological cohorts, it’s introduced us to fringe racial and religious paranoias that we had never even been exposed to before! Why, the new worlds of thought awaiting online exploration are almost limitless.
All of this has been made possible by shifting the means of mass communication from society’s tastemakers to the People. Just a few years ago, someone who had a big idea that they wanted to share with the world had to write an article or a book manuscript that would be submitted to our media masters for their approval. They exercised full authority and control over grand ideas, tightly guarding their precious printing presses as they hid behind editors and so-called “fact-checkers.” We’re now able to bypass this outmoded barrier.
When I want to blow the lid off of the Washington Conspiracy by showing that George Washington wasn’t an American descended from English settlers but was, in fact, an Overlord Commander of the ancient alien race that built the Great Pyramids of Egypt, I don’t have to submit my manuscript for review and approval to those low-circulation magazines published in an Oklahoma basement anymore. I’m empowered--empowered by the Internet to send my exposé into the Square of Public Debate--directly, and without interference by “experts.” Finally, school kids writing biographies of our so-called “Founding Father” can get access to the truth of his ancestry with nothing more than a few quick Google queries.
Imagine what it was like to enjoy the books and movies of your favorite authors and actors but never be able to contact them directly. Seems unthinkable, doesn’t it? When their artistic output inspired you to want to know more about them or share your enthusiasm for their work, there were few places to turn outside of magazines like People or the National Enquirer. Direct access to these luminaries of society was restricted to a special circle of privileged insiders like “family” and “friends.” Even for someone like me who lived in those pre-Internet times, it’s hard to imagine that we ever found this acceptable.
When I wanted to tell my favorite author how hopping mad I was over their theft of my ideas, I had no option but to write tart letters that were probably never seen by them. But, thanks to the access made possible by the Internet, I can bypass their mail screeners, and petition them directly through multiple social media platforms. And if I’m ignored on one platform, there are always others. I don’t have to take “no” for an answer anymore. And neither do you! Celebrities who used to hide in their remote mansions behind their driveway gates are at long last fully accountable to us, the consumers of popular culture. There’s no putting that genie back in the bottle.