Sunday, April 29, 2012

We Live on the Internet

I became convinced of the power of social networking roughly one year ago. I was at my girlfriend’s apartment, engaged in my internetings, when my Twitter feed suddenly exploded.

Osama Bin Laden had been killed.

Within seconds I had retweeted the announcement, shared the link to CNN’s streaming coverage on Facebook and opened 12 different tabs that gave me a timeline of events from 9/11 to the (then) present day, background on the hunt for Bin Laden over the years, information on the secret mission of Seal Team 6 and a clip from the most recent Bin Laden video on Al Jazeera. A few minutes later, the live white house press conference began and I watched it in real time in high definition while balancing my computer on my legs and eating a bowl of cereal.

It was a historic, generation defining moment and I experienced it simultaneously with millions of people around the country, all from the comfort of someone else’s home in rural Logan, Utah.
That’s when I became convinced but for more than a year I had my suspicions about the so-called Web 2.0 of user-generated content and had been working on my own particular brand of online presence.

Facebook, and the internet at large, is many things to many people. For a large portion of society, social networking is little more than a attempt to present an edited and exaggerated digital version of themselves out to the world – because we are supposed to believe, based solely on the stata and pictures that are posted, that Jane Doe’s life is nothing but swimming with sharks in Hawaii and “Goin clubbing with my Girlz Woot!”  and not, in fact, that of the boring Office Manager from Des Moines that she actually.

On the other extreme of the spectrum  are the people who realize, perhaps sub-consciously, that even though they are not even remotely clever, there are boat-loads of clever things online and thus transform their online profiles into a dumping ground of every pointless meme to cross their paths – Yes, I’m talking to you, person who posted 12 different “This is what my parents think I do, this is what my friends think I do, this is what I actually do” grids.

Perfection, lies in the middle. While my own online persona falls short, in theory I see my profile as a place where my friends can pass some time, with equal parts political and social debate, humorous observation, entertainment reporting and – let’s be honest – a fair amount of self-promotion. I personally consider a status a failure unless it receives some “action” and I’ve had some very heated exchanges go down on my wall. The beautiful thing about Facebook isn’t that you can see 25 pictures of your cousin’s newborn baby, but that you can bring together a group of individuals who would otherwise never interact and carry on a conversation that without the internet would be impossible: whether that be on the student loan debate, universal health care, what the legal drinking age should be or who would win in a fight between Batman and Spiderman (Batman).

That’s my way, but it’s not the only way. If you haven’t yet, I recommend you immediately “like” and “follow” George Takei. The beloved Star Trek actor turned Gay Rights activist has one of the best online empires I’ve ever seen, doling out a daily dose of geek-boy humor and pro-equality messages. It’s political action wrapped in nerd comedy and under the guise of fan appreciation. And the best part is: It Works! I dare you to follow Takei for a month and not come away slightly more tolerant of diversity. Let’s see Justin Bieber do THAT for his 130,000 followers.

What amazes me about the internet is how it is both a conduit of invaluable information and a dirge of useless trash. But, so is day-to-day life in what we know as “reality,” which only goes to show you just how much of our lives we have relocated to the World Wide Web.

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