The internet is one of very few things which gives me hope for the future of humanity.
Well actually it’s much more than just ‘the internet’ as a tool which give me hope.
It’s not just the sheer volume of information. It’s not just the ability to communicate instantly with dozens of people from different locations all at once.
It’s more than that.
It’s the communities I’ve become a part of and the huge variety of people I’ve met online.
From the random US citizens I spoke to on IRC in 1996, to Iraqi bloggers I met online in 2004, to local activists I met through Twitter and Facebook in 2011.
The fact that I can meet these people from the safety of my own home has made me a different person than I would have been otherwise. It broke cultural barriers and freed me from relying on mainstream sources to learn about other parts of the world.
The shareware, freeware and open source culture of online communities supply endless, high quality free to use applications for nearly every task imaginable.
Even many of the large businesses who make profit online do so without charging the end user. Facebook, Google, Twitter, Yahoo and even Microsoft all offer a series of free-to-use online products as part of their business model.
‘Net Neutrality’ set the internet up to become a place where all communication is equal, beginning at the data level. Now we all have the capacity to put our views online. We can all comment on news stories. We can all watch YouTube videos and download movies.
But we can also all witness the horror as nations armies are recorded by their own citizens committing horrendous acts, as we have seen in Egypt and Bahrain.
We can see the horrendous results of missiles when they are fired back and forth between Israel and Hamas. We can see the footage of young children dying on a beach.
But we can also see the tens of thousands of people who come out on the streets of London to speak against it. We can find a variety of views on the history of the Palestine / Israel conflict to make up our own minds on what the deal is there.
But perhaps more importantly, the internet has become a serious organising tool for progressive movements. Yes our actions can and are being tracked by the likes of the NSA, ASIO and other ‘Five Eyes’ groups. But we are have nothing to hide.
We also are growing in number.
There is not enough agents in the country to monitor all of our conversations all of the time. So many activists spend 14 hours a day on their cause and most of that would be connected to the internet. People are becoming more aware.
Our communities are becoming better regulated. Today’s youth interact more with their parents and modify their behaviours accordingly, because everything they do shows up online eventually.
A photo gets taken. It goes on Facebook. Mum likes it.
We are also moderating each other. Hundreds of people see my views every single day on their facebook wall. Many of my friends and family modified their behaviour online as a result of my calling out ignorant, sexist, racist or otherwise inappropriate language.
I believe our communities are stronger now than they have been in the past. You don’t just ‘lose contact’ with people any more, if they are online. They’re just there, in your pocket.
When you need to prove to some climate change denier that actually, scientists have proven that the earth is warming and that it is the result of human emissions… Climate scientists are just there in your pocket WAITING to give you statistics.
When you want to grow your own vegetable garden, but don’t know when to sow your seeds or what type of soil conditions for which plant… Local gardeners groups are there to give you advice and maybe even some seedlings too!
When you are looking for information and advice on audio recording as a starting out artist, you can stumble into connections that will stay with you for life.
I believe the internet has enabled a rapid evolution of humanities ‘collective intelligence’ in a way we have yet to fully comprehend. We are more aware of our mutual dependence.
We may even eventually produce new democratic models which allow for direct citizen participation in decision making, via online voting systems.
I hope it all eventuates before the status quot destroy’s what’s left of the natural world.