Some thoughts about the Internet

Writing in the digital age

Don’t ask me why but for some reason I found myself poking around on the wikipedia page for John Waters, an Irish columnist. A while back he got in a spot of controversy for calling bloggers stupid and bemoaning the fact that everyone seems to ignore the more negative aspects of the internet. Now let me say this up front- I am not a fan of you, Mister Waters. I never have been. It’s not the fact that I don’t agree with most of what you say- heck I think Caitlin Moran talks an amazing amount of bullshit in her columns and I still love her. No I don’t like you mister waters, but the reason isn’t that I disagree with you, more that…

You are so goddamn pretentious. If you could please pause for a moment while carrying the weight of our cultural burdens you might see it. You are also a bit of an elitist calling all bloggers stupid. I’m sorry print media is dying mister Waters and I’m sorry there is more of a struggle for relevance but that’s the free market, baby. Once every bright young thing in Ireland can have their own column of sorts without needing to grind up through publications you face competition. Now it’s not just the Irish times and independent writers who get to weigh in on the debate- for the first time in history we’re all at it.
But I must confess his comments on the Internet and it’s effect on modern life did get me thinking. Especially in light of recent cyber bullying cases in the news and the recent horror that’s emerged from it, here are some of my thoughts.

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I love the Internet. There’s so much bullshit on it I know. But for every trolling YouTube comment there’s a website like the hairpin a collective blog with fun articles along with personal blogs and serious discussion. There’s comics like XKCD and Dead Philosophers in Heaven which are so clever they make my head spin. There is so much love and hate and beauty and filth online. But to be a Luddite about the Internet is turning your face away from what is plainly staring you in the face. It’s willful ignorance. It’s checking out and cutting off your nose in spite of your face.

When my mother is skeptical of Facebook and nervous of twitter it’s because she isn’t of the online generation. The 4AM conversations with friends on chat, the photo databases we’re all continually sharing. When done responsibly it’s such an important tool- being able to blog helped me find a voice as a writer and hone my style. I’m able to keep in touch with friends who live far away and share ideas with some people I’ve never truly met in person. I can expand my mind in a hundred thousand different directions and the Internet is my signpost. It is the great liberator of our age.

There is a dark side to all the good, I won’t deny it. Cyber bullying is serious and real. I had a similar experience in 2002 with phone calls of all things- constant untraceable silent phone calls to my house. Sometimes they spoke and said horrible things. I would always recognise the voice as a friend of mine but she would always deny it. My mother bought a caller ID box for our phone and to this day still asks who’s calling before she’ll pass the phone to me.

People will always use technology to be terrible to one another. Of course the harassment I suffered – first to my house phone and then via abusive text messages – were in no way as extensive as the abuse carried out on Facebook it is still bullies utilizing technology to hurt their victims. In 2006 this shit went on with bebo pages. I think what’s important is to remember- technology should only do what we tell it to do.

I don’t discuss fights or rows I have with people through text message or Facebook- that’s my own small way of controlling how I use my online presence. All I would ever tell someone being harassed online is to walk away. Disconnect. Block and ignore and don’t add anyone you don’t trust. Don’t write off the technology as the problem- the problem is in people and our intense desire to be horrific to each other. The Internet offers bullies a very comprehensive way to invade another’s life, leading to tragedies like the one we saw in Donegal recently.

In 2002 when the bullying came through my phone into my home I was scared. I know in some small way what it feels like for harassment to come so unhappily close. But the answer isn’t to cut off my landline and refuse to text. Social networking and blogging are increasingly important elements of our lives. Like anything they can be used for good or for bad. The bottom line is that the tech itself is neutral- its in the people that use it where the responsibility lies.

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Niamh I have the same birthday as John Waters Keoghan

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