The internet, as we know it today, has been around for almost two decades for the mainstream public. That may seem like a long time but in actual fact, the internet is still going through its “Wild West” stage, with vast areas of untamed territory where pretty much anything goes. The internet is an amazing innovation in so far as it has allowed anyone with access to a connection to upload any information they want about themselves, and in turn, find out any information they seek to find.
This innovation has become so pervasive that we really couldn’t imagine a time when we didn’t have it. However, there is a contradiction inherent in the way we use the internet today. It can be used for the most amazingly significant purposes, but also for the most trivial. It can be used to do good, or to engage in criminal behavior. It can hold a wealth of informative data for anyone to access, and also a wealth of tabloid rubbish. It can offer access to expert analysis and debate, and also uninformed and/or dangerously influencing opinion and waffle. This almost schizophrenic nature of the contradictions in the internet make it a Wild West frontier which is full of opportunity, but also danger.
This contradiction in uses is no more apparent than in the use of social media. In one breath, services such as Facebook and Twitter can be used to coordinate huge humanitarian efforts such as the response to the earthquake in Christchurch in New Zealand, or in the recent Arab uprising across many countries which saw changes in government. These are not small, insignificant events and would have been impossible to coordinate pre-social media and the internet. However, in another breath, Facebook and Twitter can be used for the upmost trivial pursuits, such as announcing to the world how the eggs you had for breakfast weren’t cooked at the right temperature or how you’re really enjoying the latest episode of The Big Bang Theory while lying on the couch. Who cares?
The contrast in uses is why the internet is still in its Wild West stage and may be for some time. The internet is so broad in its scope of use that we haven’t even begun to scratch the surface of what it can do. By the same token, as we come to learn to use it as a society, surely we should be able to use it for more useful things than not.