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.