Telephone technology brought humanity a real time means of voice communication over long distance. But the internet was a large scale, revolutionary way of enabling the instantaneous, collective exchange of ideas without any in-person social expectations.
Internet culture is a recent addition to humanity but is having a profound impact on the nature of human interaction. Communication that takes place through some other method besides in-person interaction is not a recent phenomenon. Since the creation of the written word, mankind has been communicating through writing as a means of supplementing verbal communication.
A person who is using the internet to communicate enjoys the protection, security and control of an environment of their choosing. The average person is in a place of comfort and familiarity while they are online. A huge majority of internet communication is initiated while the person communicating is in their home. This means the person is on their own turf, and it shows in their communication. A person feels more powerful in their personal environment which leads to more openness and fewer inhibitions.
Internet culture communicates at a more subconscious level than people’s in-person communication entails. The lowered inhibitions that the free expression of the internet enables reveals something below the surface of humanity that we were not previously aware of. The resentment that people feel toward polite in-person communication has become painfully obvious. With the emergence of the internet, it has been revealed that people would prefer to communicate the specifics of their own perspectives without the inhibitions of politeness, courtesy or respect hindering the raw emotion of their opinions.
This has revealed an alarming revelation of society’s inner life and psychology. Society at large has a deeply seeded resentment towards having to tolerate one another’s differences. People are far more comfortable communicating through a medium that does not require tolerance than they are having to communicate while respecting the boundaries of other people.
If internet culture were merely a reflection of society, that would say some very significant things about society. If the ideas and opinions that are collectively expressed on the internet are things that have long existed within society and are more actively coming to the surface through the medium of the internet, than society is inherently separatist, intolerant and self involved. Many people believe that society has long indicated that it values these traits, but is internet culture exemplifying them?
Internet culture and society are two things that effect one another tremendously. The internet has become our primary means of communicating globally. We rely on it entirely for written communication, as well as rely on it largely for voice communication, visual communication and entertainment. There is no doubt that internet culture and society have changed the faces that the other wears. But where in lies the original source of change; internet culture or society?
On the other hand, if you examine society as a reflection of internet culture, you have a slightly different picture of the state of things. If internet culture is what fragmented society, or at least played a large part in society’s fragmentation, than humanity has gone through a different kind of evolution. The internet enables people to engage in communication more selfishly – from the comfort of their personal space, without the burden of in-person confrontations or considerations. It permits a more antisocial method of communication. Is it possible that this less personal option of communication is responsible for the societal breakdown in social concern and awareness?
Trying to understand whether it is internet culture or society itself that is responsible for the fragmentation of human values is like trying to solve the chicken and the egg conundrum. Likely, they both bare responsibility in the fractured human condition, but how much remains unclear. They effect one another to an indistinguishable degree – humanity’s intolerance being expressed through internet communication and internet culture driving a wedge into humanity. The only hope of reversing this trend is if humanity learns how to balance priorities so that it esteems healthy, in-person communication over unhealthy internet communication.
The culture of the internet is one that is so new that modern cultural anthropologists cannot predict its evolution with any certainty. The impact on humanity that internet culture carries is enormous, but it is also very recent and there is much still to study about it. One tremendous consideration of internet culture is its implications for collective mental health. The way that the internet effects humanity’s social health and the individual’s mental health is concerning.
One indication of how internet culture effects us collectively is in an examination of how we moderate it. First of all, mental health experts do not know exactly how much time and energy is healthy to expend on the internet, but there is a range that is considered healthy. Society is struggling to fall within this healthy range. Internet addiction is an identified mental illness in modern psychology and many of us are offenders. Balancing time spent on the internet and the rest of life’s responsibilities has proven difficult for us, yet it is undeniable that limitless access to the internet is unhealthy. People are foregoing physical activity, in-person relationships and life responsibilities in order to be on the internet, proving that we are overvaluing the internet. This is a sign of mental unhealthiness.
The health of internet communication is another major factor to contend with. Any type of communication between people falls somewhere on a spectrum between healthy and unhealthy. Examples of healthy communication would include honesty, respect, tolerance, courtesy and genuine interest. All too often on the internet, communication is found to be lacking these qualities, and is instead riddled with dishonesty, disrespect, intolerance, rudeness and a lack of interest in other’s perspectives. A detrimental breakdown of healthy communication is taking place within internet culture and is damaging the mental health of internet users.
Some may argue that the internet is merely a medium of expression for mental unhealthiness that would exist even without the internet, and there may be truth to that sentiment, but cultural anthropologists and psychologists have observed a correlation between the internet and society’s mental health which would indicate that they effect one another.
The irony of the internet is that it embodies the advance of technology, but in many ways, the regression of humanity as well. Humanity is ever changing, but whether it is evolving or devolving remains to be seen. It stands to reason that the positive evolution of humanity would be toward tolerance and altruism, but what is actually taking place is far from that. The fragmentation that society is experiencing due to the conflicts that have arisen from internet culture and communication is staggering. Society has demonstrated that it places a higher value on separatism, personal comfort and self interest than it does on collectivism, social responsibility and unity. The ways that the fragmentation of society becomes clear through internet interactions are as follows:
Separatism. Internet culture largely promotes separatism over tolerance. This is made clear in the online interactions that take place between internet users. Opinions within internet culture prefer a society where those who are different from us are kept a comfortable distance away from us. This can be seen in the hostility of exchanges between internet users.
Personal comfort. Where an altruistic nature can only be demonstrated in the absence of comfort, internet culture highly esteems personal comfort. A majority of people accessing the internet are doing so from a location of great personal comfort, and communication through the internet and other digital media is decidedly the most preferred method of communication.
Self interest. Human interactions that take place online are largely self serving. Where as in-person communication comes with an obligatory sense of respecting others, internet communication is preferred because it empowers the user to respect themselves instead of others. The element of empathy that is so necessary to a healthy society is lost on internet culture. Instead, the internet gives us compassion fatigue and we harden ourselves to others because of the access we have to the internet.
The late 20th century marked the dawning of the internet age, and from it arose a global phenomenon, the likes of which have never been seen in history. The internet became so prevalent that it is one of the only human movements in history to develop its own distinct culture without the component of in-person interactions. This phenomenon is what gave birth to “internet culture,” or “cyber culture,” which is characterized by the formation of networks through computer usage and how it impacts society. Internet culture is highly relevant as more and more of human interaction goes digital, and the direction that internet culture takes will have major consequences on human culture across the globe.
Internet culture entails the way that people interact with each other digitally and form social patterns. When the internet first emerged as a communications option, people were overwhelmingly intrigued with it and it became an instant focal point in the lives of those who had access to it. Over time, the internet became a common thing that demonstrated more and more the character of its users. People tend to use the internet as an outlet for forms of expression that would not take place in person. In some ways, it is healthy. It is not uncommon for people to communicate better through writing. However, in other ways, it is unhealthy because certain inhibitions that have developed for the sake of protecting the greater social good are shed and forgotten.
Internet culture is characterized by the shedding of inhibition in communication. One of the most common complaints about how people interact online is how often people feel untouchable behind a computer screen. Common courtesy, respect and human decency are frequently abandoned within internet culture and are replaced by hate speech, abuse and needlessly aggressive language, which is not a positive attribute of internet culture. It is unknowable how this trend will progress into the future, but it is the collective opinion that this type of behavior should not be esteemed.