Monday, August 17, 2009

Teh Internetz

As I type this, I’m also watching Dateline/MSNBC’s “To Catch a Predator.” If you haven’t seen it, the premise is this: Decoys portraying teenage girls pose in online chatrooms and lure potential sexual predators into meeting them at their “parents’ house” while they’re “home alone.” It’s a trap, however, and when the alleged pedophile arrives, he is videotaped, humiliated, arrested, and charged with various felonies, oftentimes spending time in jail and ending up permanently on sex offender lists. Many of the intended men had in fact seen previous episodes of the show, but still thought it was worth risking “big trouble” to meet a supposed 13-year-old for a night of pleasure (or, in one guy’s case, cats and Cool Whip).


The point I’m trying to make is this: The Internet that we all know and love has opened up this window of opportunity for all sorts of people, rapists and criminals alike. But it’s not just that. The World Wide Web is just that—it allows untold volumes of information to be shared at the click of a button. Virtually anyone (at least in the United States) can access it and use it for an unbelievable variety of purposes; good or bad, legal or illegal, beneficial or detrimental.

I’ll admit it. I’ve got a bit of an Internet addiction. I use it for my job (updating websites and marketing horses), for entertainment (I am a moderator on an equine-related blog that provides lots of amusement and sucks up lots of time), for education (I can google anything I want to know), for social networking (Facebook, email, and personal blogs), for journaling (hence this very post). I can’t imagine life without it. How could I, for example, write a paper that required the least bit of research or documentation? I surely can’t be expected to stagger blindly through a library, fumble through the Dewey decimal system, and paw through books completely unrelated to my topic. Egad. How did people live before the late nineties?

The Internet is useful, fun, fascinating, endlessly changing, and I love it. But it’s leading (as social scientist and anyone with a lick of common sense have been saying all along) to a serious identity crisis. When we’re online, who are we?

I usually hesitate to use my real name online, simply for the fact that I’ve managed to piss some people off and there are plenty of people out there who wouldn’t shy at carrying online disagreements to “real life.” Many people choose the same route, and this requires them to create an online pseudonym. But does this “alter” stand solely for the physical individual it represents, or does it take on new characteristics, personality traits, etc.? We’re allowed to rename, recreate, and reinvent ourselves. Am I as Shanna the same as me as Mozart?

Hmm. That’s a lot of rambling and beating around a point I don’t know how to make. I think, mainly, we need to keep track of who we are. The thrill of living an invented online life—or even simply self-publishing to an anonymous worldwide audience—shouldn’t make us throw all caution to the wind. I’m not just talking about Craigslist killers or potential job interviewers, but more about ourselves; our ethos; our psyche (I sure hope those teachers are proud of my fancy lingo). Don’t get carried away in the moment and make a mistake you'll regret, don’t lose track of reason and character, and don’t stay up until two in the morning polishing off a nonsensical blog post. I should take my own advice.


secret agent woman said...

I loved perfectly happily before the internet became widely avaiable, but I like what the blog world has to offer. But I don't spend a lot of time on-line otherwise - the blog and emails are about it.

Mozart said...

Growing up, as I have, during this Internet boom has made online access a "necessity." I think our dependence on information technology is getting ridiculous. I read in the paper that our local school system is trying to purchase (at huge expense to tax payers) a SmartBoard for every single classroom--an unnecessary extravagance that I predict will serve much more as a distraction and time-waster than acheivement-booster, as officials claim.