Like a Sackful of Chickens

You might want to sit down and take a deep breath before reading the rest of this sentence, because by the time you reach the little punctuation mark at the end, it means that you have successfully connected to the Internet. Yes, I’m totally serious. You’re using it right now. The Information Superhighway. Cyberspace. The military computer network formerly known as. The World Wide Web. Sort of like The Matrix, but a bit less Keanu Reeves and a lot more Laurence Fishburne.

Of course it’s OK to be excited.

The first thing you should know is that your amazing new Inter-majiggy doesn’t really have much of a user manual. Well technically it does, but the current version consists of about one hundred million pages, loosely scattered over the world, decorated with animated cats, and written in languages designed for machines to read. Sounds awesome right?

Well it is, and that’s why we’re here.

So before you go strapping yourself back into that Gamma Wave Stimulator you bought from the nice man on the telly, here’s your very own handbook. It was made especially for you, and it’s yours to keep foreverever. Once we’ve covered the basics, you’ll be chewing bandwidth faster than we can email pictures of unusual testicles to the same Hotmail address you’ll later spend years begging Microsoft to cancel; but we’re jumping ahead a little bit now. Take as much time as you need, and we can get started whenever you reach the next full stop. See? You’re getting the hang of this already.

Like a sackful of chickens.

The Internet is like a sackful of chickens. It’s cruel. It’s complicated. It’s awkward to conceal at work. Some people would be far better off not knowing anything about it, and to stick your face inside while pouting like a forlorn vagina would be desperately unwise. Yes, the Internet can be used to whip up an outstanding pine nut meatloaf, but no matter how outstanding, meatloaf never tastes the same once you’ve had your lips pecked off by a thousand angry beaks of vengeance.

The world is not connected to you.

You are connected to the rest of the world. The difference between the two might seem subtle, but that’s because it is. Even really smart people get confused thinking about it. Don’t be like the really smart people who get confused, just know that the Internet doesn’t give two half fucks about the name of your family station wagon, that really clever thing you said to some guy at the shops, or the astonishing firmness of your newborn’s most recent stool. If you find this difficult to accept, by all means go right ahead and build yourself a personal web page. People all over the world will snidely smile themselves to sleep at night because of your selfless martyrdom. You will be the Patron Saint of Why The Fuck Would Anyone Ever Do That Dot Com, and acolytes will worship you from afar.

It’s probably your fault.

Unless you have reliable experience, information, or expert advice to suggest otherwise, there’s a pretty good chance that you’re to blame. Whether you clicked the wrong button, didn’t read the message, or collected something untoward at dirtymanbags dot com, it really doesn’t matter. Fact is, you’re not going to make friends and influence people with the old ‘my computer broke itself’ routine. People know you’re lying. You know you’re lying. People even know that you know you’re lying, so just come clean and maybe somebody helpful will stop thinking about the weekend for long enough to listen.

People on the Internet don’t like you.

Look, we get that you’re fun to be around and everything, but the Internet is a pretty big place. Sooner or later, you’re going to discover that some of the nearly 2.1 billion people online think you’re a complete wanker and wouldn’t dribble piss on you if they had a leaky bladder stapled to their face. You may also discover that these same people are incapable of typing using lower case letters, spout slogans popular with white supremacists, and only became your Facebook friend because they wanted to bang your older sister. Whatever the case, don’t let it upset you. These things happen, and it helps us grow as people.

Welcome to The Future.

Well, that covers the basics, but seeing as you’ve made it all the way to the bottom of the page, we’ve added this super-special epilogue so you can show off to all your friends. You can totally read it as many times as you like, but right now we’re going to travel through time in an eighties model sports car. Yes, seriously. Watch your fingers on the gull-wing door. Great.

Here in the future, there have been some changes. Cell phones are digestible. California is a monarchy. Paris Hilton was converted into a hologram for improved depth. And… you’re totally awesome on the Interwebs! That’s right, a future version of the very same you that’s reading this guide right now. Being a helpful sort of person, you devote a lot of time to those less informed than yourself in getting their amazing future computers working just right. Sometimes, after helping those who are particularly demanding, ungrateful, or downright rude, you write condescending, passive-aggressive articles about how to use the Internet.

Sucks to be you.

Our World Is Shrinking

As global population booms towards the fourth stage of demographic transition and a predicted nine billion peak, we still manage to cram nearly four hundred thousand new people onto our tiny planet each and every day. It’s no secret that newborn babies are quite small, but even if we deny all evidence that our global land mass is shrinking, that’s still a whole bunch of baby toys to make room for. Thankfully, some of the brighter crayons in our global box came up with recycling or we’d all be swimming in Duplo by now.

The upside to our rampant population growth is that every day, we create another four hundred thousand minds, complete with unique thoughts, ideas and inspiration to join our humming, thrumming, global human think-tank. With so many active contributors, it’s little surprise that our universal melting pot sustains an uncanny knack for the impressive, the astounding, and the unusual. You know what I’m talking about. Things like teleporting the atom, controlling electronic devices with our mind, or generating electricity just by wearing a shirt. At very least, it seems abundantly clear that the mobile devices we carry near our genitals and press against our heads aren’t adversely affecting our fertility just yet.

So if the idea of thumping out two hundred and fifty new children a minute feels a little cramped for you right now, the cascading social and cultural implications of our postmodern new world order are probably downright claustrophobic. Current thinking suggests that pretty much everything we conceive requires some form of space and time to exist within. This notion could be tangible, such as the physical area a particular artwork might occupy, or metaphysical, like the fleeting moment of inspiration that exists only within the artist’s mind. Both are critically important to human development, and arguably our very existence.

All this talk of space and time delivers us neatly into the grasping hands of our ever incremental globalisation through technology. Using modern science to reduce the physical or metaphysical distance between formerly unattainable experiences or unreachable destinations is what draws together the farthest edges of our humanity. In this context our world is indeed becoming smaller, but have we considered the repercussions as we rush headlong towards some form of technological singularity? As we fill our space and time with exponentially more people, ideas and new things, the gaps between become narrower, and our world becomes smaller. Inevitably we’re left with less physical and metaphysical room to manoeuvre, and like most everything else, culture and identity depend on this space to exist. In equal measure, individuality and originality is best nurtured when free of controlling influence.

If the metaphysical gaps between different cultures become small enough, they effectively share the same space, and it is only a matter of time before each begins to exert influence over the others. Whether this influence is objectively beneficial or detrimental, active or passive, direct or indirect; both entities become entangled through a mechanism of mutual causality. Taking this concept to a conclusive extreme, what if every culture that currently exists became entangled with every other? If we accept that the strongest entities exert the greatest influence, eventually all cultures would mimic the most powerful, or be destroyed then absorbed as a functioning part of the original. Individuality, originality and innovation is replaced with globalised, uniform homogeneity, and human diversity becomes weaker as a result. On the bright side, if complete globalisation brings an end to our potentially miserable, homogeneous existence with a deft precision strike of corporate branded fridge magnets, at least we’d all go out in unison.

While we anxiously await the impending fridge magnet apocalypse, it’s just lucky that our global cultural supermarket remains stuffed full of new things to consume; and as consumers, our choices say a whole lot more about us than just the fine print on our favourite brand of toothpaste. Well, that’s what we’re led to believe, but do any of these choices actually provide a meaningful path towards expressing our true selves? Or are they just the end result of a bland equation where economic dominance delivers better product placement? Do I choose Android or Apple? Should I wear Nike or Adidas? Shall I drink Coke or Pepsi? Am I a Star-belly or Plain-belly Sneetch? And what does that last sentence even mean?

Dr. Seuss’s tale of The Sneetches was penned in 1963 as a parable that satirises discrimination between races and cultures. Although probably never Seuss’ intention, we can draw a surprisingly robust analogy from the plight of his Sneetches, and apply it to questions of modern identity. Like The Sneetches, whether born with stars on our bellies or without, defining and continually re-defining ourselves is an increasingly expensive commercial venture; our choices are not free. Like The Sneetches, prejudice, status, discrimination, and the burning need for acceptance can all drive critical decisions about our identity. Like The Sneetches, people will strive, suffer and sacrifice in a quest to belong, but it’s Seuss’ wily representation of commercialism – namely Mr Sylvester McMonkey McBean, and his money spinning “Star Off” and “Star On” machines – who really win out in the end. Whatever the outcome for The Sneetches, the money is already made, and he smugly rides off into the sunset with a quip about how those Sneetches will never learn. Are we those Sneetches of the beaches? And if so, will we truly never learn?

So after a long day of shopping for our identities, or counter-balancing the semi-automatic birth rate by slaughtering each other over ideological differences,  how else do we choose to occupy our time? If you’re reading this article, it’s likely that you’re one of over 1.2 billion social networking account holders, and it probably comes as no surprise that people are talking to each other over the Internet. Multiple accounts aside, this figure is more than a sixth of our current global population, yet doesn’t even begin to touch on the multitude of other methods we could use to interact. The wealthy, the poor, male and female, young and the old, what intrinsic value could such a significant and eclectic group of people all glean from staring at screens or poking fingers at portable devices?

By opening our minds to the full measure of online experience, conversation, expression and interaction, perhaps we begin to appreciate just how diverse, intricate and incredible all the living cogs of our shrinking world have become. While the Internet is hardly a viable nominee for the next Nobel Peace Prize, and it would be laughable to suggest the majority are using our new technologies for solely educational purposes, surely it’s refreshing to entertain the notion that all this online interaction,  no matter how menial,  holds enough value to unwittingly propel us into an era of increased awareness, acceptance and understanding?

If nothing else, it’s a promising thought. Perhaps we should all blog about it?