Friday, March 18, 2022

The Dark Side of the Web

As we discuss the early years of the Internet, we will discover how, as with many things, it can be both good and bad, having both a bright side and a dark side. Many of its elements can belong to both sides, depending on their use.

In 1993, Peter Steiner captured the spirit of the Internet at the time with his cartoon in the New Yorker: "On the Internet, nobody knows you're a dog." 

People were realizing that the Internet could be used as a tool of liberation, allowing them to reinvent themselves and leave their bodies behind. At first, they made small changes, such as making themselves ten to thirty years younger when talking with others on chat. But they soon began experimenting with many more changes to their profile and soon realized that they could become a different persona, altogether. This raised many criticisms, regarding moral and security issues, thus sending this element to the dark side.

But others saw the situation much differently. Sure it raised negative possibilities but it offered some ground breaking positive possibilities as well. Take "school" for example. The school environment can be both harsh and psychologically damaging. The school society is divided into cliques. The head of the cliques are cool, popular kids: kids that look right. And grouped around them are kids who are physically pleasing enough for now.

So, where does this leave the kids that don't quite fit in: kids that stutter, for example, or are not physically pleasing enough? They are usually shut out, laughed at, bullied - all because of their physical appearance. 

And this is where the Internet comes in. In 1991, we ran a program where a number of schools from different socio-economic areas were involved. Each student was paired with students from two different schools. They started out by introducing themselve through email. After they became fairly well acquainted, they discussed issues which were brought up. We soon discovered that the social framework of the class greatly changed as the kids related only to the writing without knowing anything about their physical appearance. As such, kids who were usuallly at the bottom of the social ladder often appeared now at the top because of their writing skills. What made it even more interesting was the day when the students from all of the participating schools got onto buses and travelled to a common meeting point. There was an awkward point when it was discovered that a girl student who was writing to two girls had pretended that she was a boy and the girls were apparently quite infatuated with her through her writing. But that won't stop us from sending this experience to the bright side.

In my first novel - "As I Died Laughing" - I took this one step further, where a husband invents a virtual character to seduce his wife. Why did he do it? We won't go into that here. Let's just say that things worked out much differently than he had expected. His wife fell in love with this virtual character that he invented and he discovered that he could now only find true intimacy with his wife through the eyes of his virtual character.

Do you have similar experiences that you want to share with us? You can write about them in the "comments section" down below or send me the description for a guest posting.

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