Last week, I flew out of Newark Airport’s Terminal C. Most seats in the remodeled terminal have an attached internet-enabled tablet that you can use to order food and drinks, play games, and consume media of all kinds. Everywhere I saw people transfixed by these screens, their faces slack. It wasn’t a joyful sight.
Of course, it’s not news that the more you passively consume networked media the unhappier you get. It’s easy to pick on Facebook, but one study showed that the more you use Facebook the worse you feel: https://hbr.org/2017/04/a-new-more-rigorous-study-confirms-the-more-you-use-facebook-the-worse-you-feel. Another study showed that regular Facebook users who stopped using Facebook for a week showed a significantly higher level of life satisfaction: https://docs.wixstatic.com/ugd/928487_680fc12644c8428eb728cde7d61b13e7.pdf
But we could be making better use of the technologies that make up the internet. Everyone loves to create and build things, whether it’s creating a garden in your backyard, writing a story, making music, creating a website, building a kids’ playhouse, starting a business or inventing a new career. If everyone loves to create, it’s still not easy to do. We need to learn – how can I build that kids’ playhouse? And we need encouragement and support – am I really going to take the step of starting my own business? Some of us are fortunate to have people close at hand who can fill those roles, but many more of us do not. Instead of passively consuming, what if we used the internet to share our personal journeys of creation, and to find people who can help us with those journeys? I know that this would be vastly more satisfying than what all those travelers were doing in Newark’s Terminal C.
But anyone who has spent any time on the internet already knows the problem with this utopian aspiration. The internet is populated not only by sympathetic, supportive souls. Everyone you look you find internet trolls, people (usually men) who post inflammatory, off-topic comments and strangle discussion. There has been plenty of research on these trolls; one study found that trolls are sadistic, psychopathic narcissists: https://www.psychologytoday.com/us/blog/your-online-secrets/201409/internet-trolls-are-narcissists-psychopaths-and-sadists.
The prevalence of trolls gives those who use the internet to share the process of creation a choice. Either they can leave discussion and participation open, in which case they are certain to attract trolls, or they can restrict access to only people they already know, or who have gone through a vetting process. Either approach is anathema using the internet to facilitate open networks of people sharing their journeys of creation.
And trolls aren’t the only problem. We know already that the internet is mostly supported by advertising – the “sponsored” posts in your Facebook news feed make that obvious. At best, such advertising is distracting – the very nature of advertising is take your attention away from whatever you were looking at before and cause you to switch focus to the advertisement.
But advertising can be more insidious. At Dream to Learn we initially allowed anyone who wanted to comment on a blog post to sign up and
then post the comment. The sign-up process required users to fill out a form and then validate their e-mail address. There were an astonishing number of users who went through this process in order to post a comment to sell something or to perpetrate some kind of fraud. The comments were individually laughable – magic solutions to marital problems, opportunities to acquire Nigerian millions – but together they were a huge distraction. I think of these people as “commercial trolls.”
All of which is to say that there will be strong headwinds for anyone hoping to use the internet to share their personal journey of creation. Creation requires risk and vulnerability, and even the possibility of an offensive or wildly off-topic response is enough to stop most people before they start.
So, how can we create open networks that allow people to share the process of creation, in safety?
I’d love to hear from you. Have you found ways to use the internet constructively, and to sidestep or manage the problem of trolls? Are there ways that you have been able to use the internet to share the process of creation that I’ve talked about here?
Or are there things you would like to be able to do, but can’t because the internet isn’t a safe enough place?
You can send me comments by e-mail at: firstname.lastname@example.org. Thank you!
(the pictures in this post are pictures I took of alpine flowers in the Parker Pass area of Yosemite National Park)
About this blog
Created: July 30, 2018English