Did The Internet Make Me A Bad Person?

Left, left, left-right-left. No, I’m not marching single file into battle. It’s past midnight and I’m swiping through girls on Tinder. I imagine that’s not an uncommon sight these days. Intellectually, I know this app is essentially the worst and most degrading thing ever, reducing real women to their so-called “fuckability.” Psychologically though, it’s intoxicating and empowering, which is probably why it’s been so successful. But the truth is, me judging hundreds of women based on their photos alone is kind of just the tip of the iceberg. So much of my day is spent scrolling through Twitter, judging people on their ability to craft 140 character jokes, or on Instagram, judging people on their ability to compose a photo. I also judge people on whether or not they “like” (real, actual liking doesn’t do me much good) the content I produce on these very same social media platforms. I get up in the morning, come here and write about shit people really don’t need as if they’re going to die if they don’t buy the next, coolest sneaker. I laugh at the sincerity with which certain PR firms e-mail me their god-awful products, as if in a million fucking years I would ever post them. I talk like I know it all, with the conviction of someone with much, much more experience. I tell the people who tell me to fuck off in the comments sections to fuck off in comments sections, indicting them just as they have indicted me. Is it possible that the Internet has turned me into a fucking monster?

Of course, anonymity is a big factor here. People will say or do anything when there’s zero accountability. That’s why laws exist. But even without accountability, the actions themselves are no less immoral or shitty. The absence of a conviction does not innocence make. Thing is, no one wants to admit they just might be a bad person. Your true character is what you do when no one is looking, or, in the case of the Internet, when no one can see past what you want them to see. If I do bad things simply because I know no one is sitting in judgement, or I’m not likely to get caught, then the bad things I’ve done don’t magically disappear. Conversely, only doing the right thing because you’re afraid of the consequences wouldn’t make you a good, or even decent, person either. Without diving too deep into some bullshitty Kantian discussion of the categorical imperative, I think it’s at least possible that the veil can make us more honest people, assuming we actually believe the things we are saying and are not just trolling because if there’s one thing I know, it’s that trolling, unquestionably, makes you an asshole. It’s scary because the unromantic, sex-seeking, slanderous, attention-starved person might just be the real me. Gross.

Off of the Internet, I’d like to think I do a few pretty good things with my time. I cook, I exercise, occasionally read, and don’t murder. But truth is, the Internet is such a big part of my life and my moment-to-moment satisfaction that there isn’t much time to contribute to society in any truly significant way. Like, I’m not winning a Nobel Peace Prize any time soon. The World Wide Web continues to encroach into every aspect my life, taking over how I access everything in it. The vibrations of my iPhone are happening more frequently every day, alerting me of the urgent, pointless shit I have to handle right now this very second. It goes off through the night as a literal constant reminder that the digital world never sleeps.

It’s in the moments when our online personas pour over into the real world that we are forced to check ourselves, when the veil is lifted and real feelings are sent out into the ether like lightning bolts catapulted from Zeus.

It’s not all bad, obviously. There’s a lot of good that can come from the Internet. I could, in theory, send money to kids in Africa in seconds (though I haven’t), or teach myself how to play guitar by watching hours of YouTube videos (this I have). This endless network of information itself is clearly a miracle of human ingenuity. But there’s a give and take that happens with the knowledge available online and society’s reliance on this knowledge. It’s both a tool and a crutch simultaneously. Why store any information in my brain when it can be accessed in seconds online? This becomes even more true as Internet access becomes more widely available by the day (I could have written while on a plane). So, it’s possible that my morals are not the only thing suffering—now, my intelligence is in question. With access to the Internet, I can, in theory, know anything, and yet I don’t. Could wasting this precious tool on kitten videos, pretentiously angled skyline photos and a questionable amount of porn also be considered a sin?

The easy way out is to blame the technology itself, to claim that I am a mere product of my environment, so I’ll take responsibility for my own potential awfulness and resist the urge to project my insecurities onto the virtual sphere. That said, the Internet certainly encourages a lot of my bad behaviors, but blaming it for making me a mean, immoral, vapid person is like blaming heroin for making you a drug addict. The real question is, how can I shift my bad online choices into good ones with purpose? The Internet won’t make either for me. It carries no inherent morality. Like the concept of God itself, it seems that it’s more a reflection of our most grandiose ideas than something actually guiding our lives. We created it and yet it’s bigger and smarter than we can ever be. By first acknowledging that it cannot be beaten or conquered, we can begin to free ourselves from its endless clutches.

It’s in the moments when our online personas pour over into the real world that we are forced to check ourselves, when the veil is lifted and real feelings are sent out into the ether like lightning bolts catapulted from Zeus. People really do throw hands over this Twitter shit. The Internet allows us to be the worst versions of ourselves so often and with so much impunity. It’s hilarious to joke about floating into the DMs of some dude’s girlfriend as long as we remember that actually doing so would be a very, very shitty thing to do. It’s when we can no longer tell the difference that we come face to face with the monster that might have been there all along.

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