On the Outside of the Internet Age, Looking In

Growing up on the cusp of the internet age, I didn’t know I’d find myself wrapped up in the moment of the greatest age of human experimentation.

My girlfriend and I had a conversation tonight.  We were trying to process, in our minds, the deviancy in our world today.  Specifically on college campuses.  We discussed the horrifying growth in sexual abuse, male against female.  We discussed the Rolling Stone article in which the problem was addressed, but was later redacted for factual inconsistencies.

We wondered if that was the real issue anyone should have had with the article, or whether that was a diversion incited to draw us from the real problem we face.  Instead of trying to come up with a reason, a cause to investigate why this problem was so rampant and terrifying, we found ourselves fact-checking a story that has unfolded in essentially the same way countless times at any of the (all of the) campuses in this country.

Why are these young people acting so recklessly, with no regard to consequence or conscience to their fellow person?  Is it a result of our own access?  Are we just privy to this information these days more easily?  Is it due to the internet’s ability to let us find any story, at any time, in any area of the world?  Why do these kids not treat their equals as if they are equal?  Why do they treat them like they are some kind of non-person, a fictional character they can create or destroy as they see fit?

There are of course administrative issues as well.  Colleges are not learning institutions anymore, they’re credit card companies.  Have a young person build debt they will be forced to pay the rest of their lives.  If a company suffers public embarrassment through hundreds of sexual assault cases, they might not survive the PR blowback.

But that isn’t the real concern here.  Why are kids acting this way?  Why do they feel so entitled to act this way?  Do they not know there are consequences for their actions?  How can they treat another person that way so casually?

Entitled.  That’s when it started to hit me.  I know I have heard this point made in other places before, but this was the first time this idea really started to sink in for me, as I tried to understand why kids only five or ten years younger than me acted so completely different than me (I’m 28.)

I was born right before the Internet really came into being, before it was worldwide.  I had AOL when I was twelve, maybe thirteen.  Dial-up connection.  When I was fourteen, fifteen, going into high school, Napster allowed me to download any song I wanted.  It only took me two hours to download It Wasn’t Me by Shaggy.

When I was eighteen, I got my first cell phone.  I thought text messaging was the stupidest idea in the world.  I have this phone I can call anyone I wanted to at any time, I can just call them and tell them to meet me here, or I’ll be there.  I didn’t need to waste time typing out a message.  By the end of my freshman year in college, I recognized the value of sending a message to someone without having to have a conversation.  Without having to hear their voice, without having to deal with rhythms or inflections.  Without being awkward.

My sophomore year in college, a girl asked me if I had a Facebook account.  I didn’t know what she was talking about.  I had to ask my friend.  He told me it was a place where you could put your name and stuff on the internet.  Talk about yourself, share stuff with other students.  I thought it was dumb.  We thought it would be a hilarious idea to use my e-mail address to make up a fake person instead.  In the years since he has reverted back to me, of my own name.

I understand Twitter, but I don’t use it much.  I still don’t get much valuable information from it.  I have never been on Reddit.  I don’t read comments on YouTube.

I couldn’t for the life of me understand why these kids, these kids who know even less than I do about the world, felt so entitled to share their opinions (and EMOTIONS!) about people, places and things they interact with on the internet, and in such inflammatory ways.

I used to think entitled.  Now I know that isn’t the correct word at all.

Parents in the world today, in this country, are so laughably, embarrassingly behind.  I can’t understand why.  I see a commercial on TV every night from a local hospital.  In it, the typical questions a parent has about their child are asked.  Things like, “Why is my child acting this way?” and “Is puberty really this bad?”.  I saw an article on the internet today listing “dangerous” acronyms for parents to be looking out for on their kids’ phones.  Mainly, it had to do with sex.  How the kids were going to meet for sex.  When they were going to meet for sex.  You know, the real problem.

Apparently parents these days were born as fully formed 30 or 40-somethings who never were children.  They therefore must address the issues that they would have otherwise faced had they been children.  It is because children go through puberty perhaps at perhaps a younger age now, or they have access to sex things on the internet that turns them into reckless deviants who end up assaulting each other. These are not simple, biological urges that children go through, and it is the internet’s fault they have no control.

Parents are learning about why a 15 year old boy wants to fuck instead of learning how to make sure that same boy doesn’t do something, carried from his young dumb mind, that will follow him, haunt him for the rest of his life.

What did I come away from our conversation believing in?  What did I believe I learned from it, or what finally really started to sink in to my mind?

The idea that I was born, and grew right before the Internet came to be.  One of, if not the greatest innovation in human history.  The kids after me, just after me, were the first to grow with the Internet.

I grew alongside the Internet.  They grew within the Internet.

This is a point I have heard before, but one that explains so much about what children are like today.  We see the internet as the greatest and most disastrous invention we could conceive.  It is a place where we can receive all the information we know about the world at the touch of a button.  It is also the same place where we can reach any depths of human depravity we wish to reach with the same touch of a button.  The ones who grew outside reach in occasionally to examine.  We like to dabble in its potential, but we have never dove fully in it.  It is a terrifying thought to us to be so deep in the internet’s grasp we can’t see light anymore.  We can’t breathe, we could drown.

The kids who are five to ten years younger than me have the gills.  They were born in the Internet.

No, it’s the other way around.  The kids just behind me, they were the first to walk on land.  We are still in the water, but the shallowest of the shallow.

Because of this, not only do we not know what they are going to encounter, fearing the air and the land and what it may do to us, but they are going it alone.  They don’t have any guidance, and they don’t know how to navigate if we don’t know which way to point them.  They won’t survive, they won’t find food, unless we poke our heads out, rest it on the land, almost dry up, and tell them to eat not that plant, but that plant.

Instead we’re still worried about why they even want to fuck in the first place.

So much of what problems we face with “kids today” stems from them being the first generation to grow with the Internet.  I couldn’t, until tonight, understand why every kid felt as though they had a viable opinion on everything, much less felt it was necessary to tell everyone.

They grew up in a world where everything they came in contact with had a comment box.  And it is now as common to them to comment on them as it was for us to use a telephone.

What was it like for the first generation after the first people who discovered how to turn wheat into bread?  I mean, if that thought hadn’t existed before, how did someone discover it?

When I was in the sixth grade, if I wanted a girl to see my dick, I had to ask her.  I never asked a girl, of course, but it didn’t change the fact I wanted every girl to see it.  It was the first step to sex, right?  I can’t even imagine the amount of shame I would feel as my twelve year old chubby little self to walk up to a girl I liked, and ask her if she wanted to see my dick.  But that’s how sex worked, and I really wanted sex.   Now, no parent can understand how a little boy can be sending a dick pic to their little girls’ phone.  Sure, you might get in trouble, but that shame is not the same.  My face wouldn’t be two feet away from the girl of my dreams, asking her to look in my pants.

I can write any word I want on the Internet.  Here, now, anywhere.  I could never, never say it in public.  Maybe it’s because I don’t have the balls, or maybe I know it’s not the right thing to do.  I don’t know.  Because now, I can play a game online where players don’t see each others’ faces.  In one particular game just two nights ago, I heard one boy ask another, in a particularly threatening tone, “Why are you such a nigger?”  I don’t know who the boy was he was talking to, and I don’t know who the boy was who was talking.  They will never know me, and they will never know each other.

You know liars right?  You know the type of liar who makes up a story, and, in the course of retelling a false story over and over again, starts to believe the story is true?

Actions beget consequences.  In the world I grew up in, that is what I knew.  Immediate consequences.  Personal consequences.  This was true because actions were action.

These children did not grow in that society.  Their actions rarely suffer the consequences the generations before them faced, because their actions are metaphorical taking course in an new world they grew up in, a world we have decided to not understand.

I was a terribly shy kid.  I was terribly shy into my twenties.  I am still a little bit like that.  I don’t seek the company of strangers.  But I have learned through many failures struggles and successes how to live in a social world.  I may not have been fully socially active when I was 18, but I was socially aware.  I understood how to live in a world with other 18 year olds.

Kids now live in a different world, with no avenue towards social awareness without being in my world.  The consequences of that are not what they do to each other now, but how they do it.

The actions they take, assaulting each other, hating each other, destroying each other, is a result of the world they grew up in and it’s own infancy, sure.  But their actions are equally, if not more a result of the failure of generations before them to adapt.  To plunge headlong into the Internet, understand the principles of its modernity, and to guide their children through its trappings.

Parents must understand first what it is to grow within the Internet.  Then and only then can we all start learning how to live in this new world.

We are really standing on its edge now, on its precipice.  We now have to finish our work to make the Internet, and by extension mankind, what it should be.

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