The Internet as a Current and Future Tool for Moving Toward Utopia
The internet is a form of technology that is hugely successful in equalizing people, and will continue to develop in that way. It opens up communication and knowledge to a broader range of people than ever before. In researching the potential for individual’s worlds to be expanded by the internet I found a number of ways that people are already using it to reach each other. I will explore the benefits of the internet in several sections, for clarity. Like the internet itself, the sections have a high level of crossover and connectivity, but I have sectioned them as simply as possible. The main categories of potential to move toward a utopian ideal are in access to information, connectivity between people, reducing the resources people use to lower levels. Each of the aspects of benefits of the internet have the potential to expand to help even more people, but I believe we are well on our way to using the internet’s special advantages to bring people together and uplift them.
People in very poor urban places can access the internet because they share connections or go to a café or library that offers it. There is a One Laptop Per Child push to get laptops to children in developing areas, manufactured very cheaply and useful to access literacy materials. The laptops are green to discourage resale on the black market, and can be purchased in bulk by schools or villages, or donated one by one by wealthier consumers, as explained at http://laptop.org/en/participate/ways-to-give.shtml
. While this is an area that needs continued attention in the interest of fairness, the access barrier to up-to-date information and learning online is much smaller than the barrier of print media. Print media gets outdated quickly and is cost-prohibitive to create and ship. It is also very easy for governments to restrict print media compared to online media. For example, Google recently refused to censor search results in China (http://www.nytimes.com/2010/03/23/technology/23google.html).
I estimate that about 70% of my information comes from online sources, including newspapers, books, personal blogs, forums, websites, email/instant messaging, movies, and videos. The remaining portion comes from in person communication via classes and conversation, with negligible information gathered from print sources and television. I pay about $25 per month for my internet access and my computer was $600 and will probably last me 3-5 years. Compared to the amount that I pay in tuition and books, about 4,300 per quarter, learning online is extremely financially accessible. While I believe it is important for me to apply myself to earning a bachelor’s degree in a structured environment and find the personal development I gain by learning from professors and working with peers invaluable, that is an opportunity that can’t be afforded to everyone whereas many more people can use online resources. While it has been suggested (http://www.google.com/search?hl=en&q=internet+changing+brains&btnG=Search&aq=f&aqi=&aql=&oq=&gs_rfai= ) that the plasticity of our brains means our dependence on online resources makes us less able to retain information, I think shifting to using our brains for analysis rather than storage is an excellent use of them.
Online Status Signifiers:
With online presentation there are luxury sites and premium (for pay) items in games, and for pay membership in online groups and games. This presents a false (or manufactured) disparity but I see the advantage of this as pixel products don’t exhaust resources for their production, shipping, and disposal. If more of our lives took place online status signifiers could shift to online also. For example, many workers can do their jobs remotely from home, which means that over time they would need very few suits, and could make their own coffee instead of one in a disposable cup, and could potentially have an older car or one car shared between a household. This brings me to the category Using Fewer Resources.
Using Fewer Resources:
This has two parts- the impact on richer westerners, and the impact on poorer folks. Richer people can reduce their energy and resource consumption hugely by reducing their need to travel for leisure and work. When commuters can work entirely from home, or do a split work week, there are huge savings in gasoline and infrastructure needs. Even people whose jobs cannot be conducted remotely can use the interent to reduce their footprint in innumerable ways. We can pay bills and do similar tasks online instead of driving around to do them. We can find information online instead of calling offices and slowing them down. In this way, efficiency and reduced waste go hand in hand.
Utility for Bed- and House-bound Persons
The ability of transmitting data and projects and communication has excellent repercussions for workers to use fewer resources in traveling, but there is an additional value in helping people who can not leave their houses for health reasons because this is their only option for widespread participation in communication. These reasons range from advanced age, temporary and chronic disability, and so on. In my family, my mother was once bed bound for a few months, pre widespread internet, for a difficult pregnancy, so this experience is quite widespread. I found blogs written by people who are presumed permanently bed bound, sharing the experience of being bed bound. I think the primary benefit of this sharing is that other bed bound people can share coping methods and get support, but a substantial secondary benefit is that other people, such as myself, get a perspective that there was no prior opportunity for me to learn about because I do not have permanently bed bound family members nor friends.
In addition to the practical utility of sharing information for house- and bed bound people, and the outreach utility, there is the value of building community and friendships. One extremely successful way to build friendships online is to join a gaming community. The blogs of two bed bound women that I read at length (through their archives) both were very active in Second Life, (a computer game where you develop a character and go on activities with other players) to the point that I found it confusing which parts of their writings were about their lives and which were about their Second Lives because they gave equal weight to the intensity of their friendships in person and online. These are personal blogs which I will not link to, but I found them via http://fourwallsnolimits.net/ , so more information can be found there by interested people.
Second Life is a very cohesive online role playing game. It is very large and used by many people. As such, it has already produced many of the affects I have described in this essay. It can be used by people to meet new people or stay connected long distance. In-game classrooms are used by institutions of higher learning in lieu of developing the software for such a thing independently. This has enormous potential for dissemination of information, of course. Second Life charges actual money for nearly all of their services, and I believe that this can eventually transition to more people buying these things for status and less dependent on consumer goods. Although the items (islands, houses, hairstyles, to name a few) are available for purchase, anyone with the coding and design skills can produce these goods for sharing or for sale. Much, much more information is available here: http://secondlife.com/whatis/#Intro.
Online Dating and Meeting
Meeting people online is of benefit in two major ways. It allows people to meet others in their area when they may be too shy or otherwise prevented from making friends and meeting people easily, and by broadening the scope of people to long distance friendships and other relationships. When my social anxiety was out of control following my move to Santa Cruz from Oakland I used http://www.meetup.com/ to find locals doing activities I enjoyed, which gave me something to do socially. This brings me to Easing Displacement.
Displacement from our social networks on a mass level has been occurring for generations, but not long enough for us to feel at ease with displacement. And displacement for work, college, marriage, or in response to wars or natural disasters, can happen to one individual several times in his or her lifetime, making it difficult to make extensive networks of close friends and support systems. Displacement can unbalance a person and create disorientation even for people able to quickly create a new network, let alone for those who can’t or feel they can’t. I have already discussed the opportunities to meet new people in an area online, but the essential way I see the internet easing displacement is by making it very easy to communicate daily with geographically dispersed friends and family. This maintains connections over time and gives comfort and support while adjusting to new living circumstances.
Writers and artists can access huge audiences online by self-promotion with a small budget. This is in complete contrast to the publisher controlled method of getting one’s work to audiences. It gives the power to the writers, and it also gives power to readers because they can opt in to supporting an author or artist or craftsperson instead of having it sold to them. This decentralized sharing can be seen in blogs, in online stores such as http://www.etsy.com/ (where sellers create art or crafts and sell them individually to consumers on a very small scale with etsy charging only a listing fee), in self published e-books, and all over. The internet has given people a really widespread way to share their creativity.
The future is here, you see.