Our guest speaker this past week, Dr. Latanya Sweeney, opened discussion by asking the question; “Is the Internet our friend or foe?” By simply examining the surface of the Internet such as helpful tools like Google, Youtube, and Wikipedia, one would quickly reply, “friend.” However, diving into the depths of the net, especially in this tumultuous time regarding net neutrality, one can see many malevolent connections shifting one’s opinion to that of “foe.”
This relationship is in a way synonymous to one’s social media and real life presence. On the surface or what an individual puts out about oneself on social media defines an image of the person that the user can highly curate. Though, in order to really understand the person, you would have to dive into many interconnections including discovering who they are friends with, what activities they like, what political leanings they hold, etc. This will create a more realistic view of a person, changing them from a flat, one-sided persona to a round, multi-faceted person.
However, from this observation rises a problem; people do not want to take the time to understand the depths of another online presence or of the Internet itself. What problems can this lead to? Currently, we see ignorance regarding the net neutrality issue causing important figures from comedians to politicians to educate the general public to recognize the problem at hand. More problems can and will arise in the future too.
On a slightly different note, contemplating social media (and other Internet communities), people have the chance to construct any appearance they desire. In my opinion, social media fosters the development of one’s ego, which can be positive at times, but can lead to negative consequences as well. As a person interested in religion, I find the growing importance we (as a culture/community) have placed on social media and decreased influence of religion connected. One function of religion is to separate one’s ego from one’s being. Social media’s main function seems to be to greatly establish one’s ego. This causes a head-to-head collision between religion and social media. We measure self-importance by a “fake” currency called “likes” (or perhaps likes are quite real if we can measure an abstract concept such as self-importance with them). You can compare with friends and celebrities to see who accumulates the most likes dictating who is more popular, more influential, more important. In the end, this usually just creates a cycle where everyone is feening for more accreditation of their self-importance (which in the large scope makes companies money because of continued use of their product). This is why social media companies have grown to such a power in our society because they can feed of the innate human desire for validation.
So, is the Internet our friend or our foe? How about our acquaintance that we are cautiously aware of, but would rather not leave our wallet laying around them because who knows if they would take something.