January 1, 1983 is considered the official birthday of the Internet, but I didn’t get online until 1997. In fact, it was December of 1997, because I remember having my universe altered by a 90-second clip of Kate Winslet discussing how she prepared for her role as Rose DeWitt Bukater in “Titanic.” While I loved the film and what its success said about where American pop culture was at the time (i.e. $600 Million domestically means that Clinton, Dole, and Perot voters all went to see it), my wonderment stemmed more from the realization that my adolescence was about to get a lot more interesting with every technological advancement.
By the fall of 1998, my elementary school had established an Internet club, which was comprised of six fifth-graders and one teacher whose aim it was to facilitate a conversation about the impact that this newfound access was going to have on all our lives. Expecting a group of 10-year-olds to calculate the pros and cons of something that not even world leaders understood yet was a tall order, because all we wanted to do was either play chess against someone on the other side of the world or sit in on a chat room that made us feel more grown up than we really were. There were no rules and no expectations, except that there would be a new wrinkle to ponder every time we met.
I’ve been reflecting back on those halcyon days quite often as of late due to the impending 25th anniversary of my time in cyberspace and I can’t help but be skeptical as to whether or not things have actually gotten better. I can’t help but think about the relationships that have been severed thanks to identity politics. I can’t help but think about the daily evisceration of intellectual disagreement and debate at the behest of the Twitter mob. And I can’t help but think of the level of hubris one must have to hold someone responsible for past comments they made despite those comments not having anything to do with where they are in their journey at that moment in time.
Of all the concepts that have been extinguished by the new groupthink, forgiveness and the opportunity for personal growth are the ones that have stuck out the most since the pandemic made everyone a little less tolerant. The same crowd that once argued against someone being executed at 60 for a crime they committed when they were 18 is now telling you that what someone immaturely tweets at 2:30 a.m. on a Tuesday should define the rest of their life going forward. Social media has created its own insular reality in which everyone is racist, misogynist, sexist, homophobic, and whatever other label you care to throw out there until proven otherwise, so, when Palmer Joss asks Larry King if the world is fundamentally a better place because of science and technology in “Contact,” he could be easily be talking about the present day. If you substitute science and technology with social media, you’ll get an understanding of where my head is at.
Then again, when everyday people like you and I complain about the Internet, we’re not talking about Wikipedia, same-day shipping, online bill-pay, or any of the other conveniences of modern life that Al Gore’s invention has afforded us. We’re referring to the manner in which Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, and Tik Tok have negatively impacted our ability to relate to one another as human beings. We’ve allowed ourselves to become so swept up in Big Tech’s incessant pandering to our desire for more that we’ve failed to consider what the toxicity of our digital interactions is doing to us below the surface. It’s become a little harder to enjoy entertainment such as movies, music, sports, and television with the obvious indication that what we’re seeing is being driven by an agenda other than the pursuit of excellence. Art should live and die by its own merit rather than what the hive mind believes is necessary to preserve its position as cultural gatekeeper.
When it comes to what I’ve been trying to achieve as a writer since 2009, I can’t think of a more dispiriting time to be a music journalist than right now. There’s no motivation to discuss music or pop culture with any sort of balance or complexity, because people don’t care to have their opinions challenged. They want obsequious pieces that reinforce their beliefs and avoid hurting their feelings, which is a way of working that I’ve frankly never had the stomach for. I expect a lot of myself and wish that the general public demanded more of itself from a critical thinking perspective.
However, when Kennedy asked people what they could do for their country back in 1961, he was addressing a populace that appeared to still value personal responsibility. Now, people blame external forces for anything that doesn’t go according to plan and aren’t interested in doing shit for anyone but themselves. They’ve allowed an entitlement mentality to corrupt their thought process, because they feel as if the universe owes them something.
Perhaps I should be a good millennial and fall in line with whatever the hive thinks is best for me. That way, I wouldn’t be burdened by the Daniel Plainview complex in which I often look at people’s behavior on the Internet and see nothing worth liking.
But we all know that’s not going to happen, so I have no choice but to carry on and use this platform to push back against the hive even if it feels like an exercise in futility.