The internet is a beast. It’s rapidly changed the way we live our lives, particularly in that it has entirely streamlined communication. No longer must you wait to get your news fix until the next day’s paper comes out. No longer do military servicemen need to wait weeks to receive letters from their loved ones back home. No longer must you purchase your pornography. We can now transmit messages to one another – not only to some physically-fixed hub like a pay phone (although that, too, is only a century-and-a-half-old development), but straight to a person’s pocket, and get a response back within a few seconds. Fortunately, and a bit unfortunately, situations like this will no longer occur:
I would even argue that the internet is the next great development with regard to the theory of Historical Materialism. For those of you who are slightly less familiar with the concept (I personally barely know what I’m talking about here, so no worries), this is an idea first developed by Karl Marx, and it “looks for the causes of developments and changes in human society in the means by which humans collectively produce the necessities of life.” In this theory, Marx believed that certain discoveries accelerate the maturation of human society, forever altering the ways in which society operates. Classic examples would be things like Gutenberg’s Printing Press, or the Steam Engine.
I believe that the internet, in all its glory, is the next massively significant invention that vaults progress forward. A few centuries ago, cultures were isolated, as the only way to even learn about other cultures was through physical integration (e.g. one society conquering another, Marco Polo, etc.); now, people in China can stream NBA games on their laptops. I can “publish” this essay, even though I do not have access to any traditional, official method of publication. The internet allows us to share information, all in the time in takes to click a button. That, right there, is power.
While I think this is a fascinating concept, it’s not the central focus of this Blogcat; it merely serves as the backdrop to our discussion. Rather, this column is more about an important ramification of this invention that is the internet, that being a little idea known as Accountability.
During my senior year of college, I took a class led by a certain Professor Donahue (she could also serve as the subject of an entire column, but let’s not go there). On one occasion, she off-handedly mentioned an idea that, while characteristically completely irrelevant to our coursework, has stayed with me. That concept had to do with the tiny little windows in the doors of public buildings.
I’m guessing most of you have never considered, or maybe even noticed, how each classroom door in every school building you’ve ever been in has (rough estimate) a one-square-foot window about eye level. This is no coincidence, Donahue explained. Instead, those windows are intentionally put there for one sole reason: accountability. They are there so that helicoptering school administrators – principals, deans, department heads, school governors – are able to take a peek inside the classroom and monitor the behavior, and level of responsibility, of professors or whoever else might be using the room. This is not to say that these “chaperones,” as it were, are frequently engaging in this type of snooping. Instead, merely the threat of that happening serves to keep the more mischievous hooligans in line. Perhaps this is why Sandusky took to the showers, where no windows are present.
The internet has created, or at least greatly exacerbated, this threat for the whole of life. No longer are our actions localized, with limited “legs.” Sixty years ago, Frank Sinatra was the biggest star in this country, and despite his alleged womanizing and connections to organized crime, had a glamorous reputation. He behaved how he wanted to behave, because no one had an iPhone to make a video go viral, and access to media outlets was restricted. President Kennedy had affairs left and right, but was never held accountable.
This is obviously only speculation, but I’m guessing those two aforementioned careers would have been covered differently in our 24/7, 395 news cycle. Just look at some news stories that have come out recently. CIA Director, General David Petraeus, was found to be cheating on his wife, and he quickly lost his job, in disgrace, because of it. Off-duty Secret Servicemen were discovered to have solicited a prostitute.
The sentence I just started to write began, ‘if these things had happened in the past,’ but I stopped myself. These things DID happen in the past – it was just that nobody got caught. Or if anyone did, nobody heard about it, and there wasn’t enough public outcry for something to be done about it. Now, because of the internet, and youtube, and blogs, and social media, these deviants are being held accountable for their actions. Hopefully, one day, people will realize that, like windows in doors, the internet is always metaphorically watching, and they will learn to behave more-ally (get it?!?).
I can’t imagine how increased accountability for our actions is a bad thing, but I think our society has yet to figure out exactly how to deal with an increased access to what has always been private information. What I mean is, we just can’t stop ourselves from judging. We condemn people, and move on looking for the next person to condemn.
This generation I have the pleasure of being a part of is (I’m certainly not the first to point this out) utterly impatient. It pisses me off when anything takes longer than two minutes to cook in the microwave. In this same light, anything that happened yesterday is no longer news. Nine months ago, Jeremy Lin was the biggest discussion topic on the planet, or at least in this country; now, I’m guessing some of you readers are saying, “oh yea, I forgot about him, what’s he up to these days?” We chew people up, and don’t really pay attention to what happens after that. We don’t yet know how to handle all this information.
Our problem is that our judging has negative consequences. Fifty years ago, I wouldn’t know David Petraeus’s name, or that he had an extramarital affair. If that were the case today, he’d probably still have his job, but instead, he got booted out of office. It would be one thing if we were still talking about it, but we’re not. Currently, we’re much more focused on the tragic massacre in Connecticut, as we should be. Typically, however, travesties like that aren’t what we move on to, but rather, we transition to focusing on other trivial matters. We used General Petraeus in a futile attempt to satiate our unending appetite for news and scandal, and then we moved on and forgot about him while he tries to piece his life back together. And we, as a society, don’t really care. We’re too busy getting on our next high horse to even notice.
I don’t think we should stop judging. In fact, judging is a good thing. Like windows in doors, judging is a deterrent for unethical behavior. Perhaps people will learn that, with the internet, there’s a metaphorical window everywhere. As more and more of us are held accountable, maybe more and more of us will behave better.
On the flip side, I also hope that in the future we’ll handle our 24/7 news cycle with a bit more maturity. Once we have more history to benchmark current actions against, perhaps our ridicule will be a bit less harsh. Let’s judge, but save the diatribes for Demon Snow Squad.
I’m not sure what will happen, but I’m desperately curious to know. Until then, I guess I’ll just have to wait.
Fuck. Waiting blows. I’m gonna go grab a beer.