Should We Get Rid of the Internet?

(Essay) Coauthored with Bernard Hankins

A Summary
Full Reading

The internet, coupled with a lack of discernment, character, and craft has exacerbated our self-imposed dehumanization. People are creative, and people will use the internet to express their creativity. Since the internet isn’t going away, the question is whether humans will use it constructively. It’s easy and funny to use it for deconstruction, so the challenge to incubate self-motivated individuals to use the internet for the development and expression of excellent craft is great. People will generate culture even if they aren’t capable, and if society doesn’t equip its citizens properly, the generated culture will be one that dehumanizes and destroys.

I

(Great Music for Reading or to Play with the Audio Version)

Today, the valuing of art is nearly nonexistent. Since art is the way we learn to express emotions, compassion, and empathy, and since art helps a person to put his or her self in other people’s shoes, art is vital in understanding others. Hence, the decreasing valuing of art is partially the reason for the lack of emotional intelligence, and this can cause very bright individuals to commit horrific harm to themselves and others. People are becoming artistically illiterate, which makes them emotionally and empathetically unintelligent. The loss of emphasizing creative excellence in a world with more creative avenues than ever before has contributed to the formulation of a people whose empathy doesn’t exceed their television programming, and whose reaction to learning about a horrific event is to post a statement on Facebook that makes it clear that they are moved to tears by the situation.

Society has access to artistic possibility and experience like never before and has managed to waste and mutate that potential into a cacophony that people laugh and gaze at but don’t understand. Consider Youtube: all have access to creativity and inspiration thanks to it, yet the majority watch slapstick comedy, the provocative, or ‘fail videos’. If what is considered funny and popular is on the same plane as dehumanizing, such kinds of projects will be created, causing dehumanization to be ‘cool’. Without empathy, not only will societies be unable to stop this trend, but they won’t even be able to recognize it as dehumanizing in the first place. Good art, to the majority, whether they mean to or not, is now equated with popular art, making good art debilitating.

With the internet, children now have the ability to not only see newly generated culture on a daily basis, but to also contribute. They are no longer passive receivers of culture, but part of the creative body. Since Youtube is based on ‘likes’ and a poster who dehumanizes easily receives them, children will create dehumanizing content. Young, they will be lead to believe that this kind of work is culture and playfully contribute to the end of culture. This kind of art is also easy to produce: you do not need to go to college to push someone out of a chair or to make a cat play piano. This leads children to believe that art is easy and that art humiliates. Armed with these beliefs, they go about designing the next age.

In the 90s, America’s Funniest Home Videos was full of clips of people who happened to catch accidents. Aware that this was popular, people today arrange these “accidents”. Moderns are a generation conscious of potentially being part of America’s Funniest Home Videos any moment of any day, not mere viewers. Instead of waiting for random events, people are able to cause them and then post their videos immediately for a global audience without any kind of screening process. Living amongst this kind of self-awareness is something children will be unable to avoid being influenced by, and so, through their creativity, if not trained otherwise, children will be unable to avoid constructing culture without craft.

II

Children today can access a thousand songs with a click, while children of the past would spend ten years gaining access to only a hundred. Music is consumed, as is all art, and children have learned to treat art like a consumer and, paradoxically, a hoarder. Therefore, children produce what can be consumed instead of experienced and confuse it with art. With a single post, a thousand people can know what a person is doing. Consequently, children go through their day looking for activities that are worthy of tweeting versus experiencing. This generation instantly shares something the moment it finds something worth sharing. Furthermore, the internet culture encourages counterfeiting: a false quote can be attributed to Morgan Freeman to generate ‘likes’, and there’s nothing the great actor can do to stop it. Gradually, people become distrusting of what they see and hear.

With such ease and availability to art comes the temptation to skip the long road on which craft, character, and discernment are cultivated. Anyone today can be an artist whose work is distributed, and this has its benefits. It used to be an artist had to know the right people and have access to money to achieve an audience. Now, everyone has a chance, but this removes the clear border between the artist with craft and the artist with crass. Without discernment and wisdom, this border vanishes all together. With it goes artistic appreciation, the makings of which are already in the works. Democratization requires elite discernment to check and balance it, but democratization tends to destroy any kind of elitism. In freedom, people should choose to make themselves experts, but sadly freedom makes it easy and popular to settle with mediocrity. Without experts or elites, there are only novices judging novices: there are no filters to sort the good, the bad, and/or the ugly. Quality inevitably diminishes, as does artistic literacy, and with that a society loses its ability to define art and the artist. Without definition, both fade away. This is not to say the loss of elites is inherent with Democracy, only likely. Freedom, like the internet, is a hefty responsibility. With it comes the potential for great good and great horror.

III

Once, it took time to arrange and see art: a curator had to prepare an exhibit which people had to travel to experience. Today, art is posted rather than hung on walls, requires no host, and a couple can view it immediately from home on a homepage. People are bombarded with countless stimulants throughout the day, many of which they have no choice but to absorb. Since the majority of the content is low quality, this results in the light-speed spreading of dehumanization into the minds of those who have no choice but to see what is posted on walls through ‘updates’ and Youtube’s homepage. This is a way in which people become too passive in receiving art, and it trains individuals not to spend too much time paying attention to what is in front of them. By their inability to keep information out, people are trained to distract themselves as a defense mechanism against the overwhelming tidal wave of data.

It used to be the case that accessing art almost always cost money, but the opposite is now true. In the past, the price tag inherently forced individuals to be more discerning, because humans naturally think more about what they buy in comparison to what they receive freely. Unless, that is, they been have trained to overcome this natural tendency with a capacity to cultivate appreciation and gratitude on their own. Without training though, it is difficult for people to treat free art as if it is valuable. Today’s society can never go back to a world in which most art is paid for, hard to access, and hard to make. Never before has society required so much training; never before has it received so little.

It is clear that the internet can affect people negatively if they chose to use it poorly, but these negativities can be overcome so that the good is achieved. Removing the internet is not an option, and even if it was, it wouldn’t be a good one. Thanks to the internet, a writer has access to countless more resources than James Joyce, and arguably writers today can achieve greatness never before glimpsed. Also, ease of access to art and the removal of economic barriers makes it easy for artists to receive inspiration from other artists, enable artists to reach across borders and combine genres, and opens the world of art to those who otherwise couldn’t afford the entree fee.

Since the internet cannot be removed, the only way to address the aforementioned problems is with increased character and discernment. Schools and families must contribute, though both seem to be collapsing. Making the challenge greater, people have been trained to be distracted and inattentive in order to survive in the internet age, yet concentration is necessary to develop both craft and character. The challenge is great, but societies must succeed: the only other option is the end of culture that uplifts and promotes rather than disintegrates. Success though, thanks to the internet, will usher in art and culture of an unimaginable caliber and grandeur.

IV

In school today, math and science are emphasized over the humanities, often because the humanities ‘don’t get you a job’. These fields are called ‘humanities’ because humanity is given form through them. By making these studies seem ‘extra’ or ‘unnecessary’, education implies that culture’s humanity is a nicety which doesn’t hurt to have, but only insomuch as it doesn’t get in the way of work. Yet work without humanity is deadening. The school system readies children for the ‘real world’ as if the ‘real world’ is an economy without a culture; in its efforts to be concrete, school is abstract. Providing no outlet or incubator, children are forced to create outside (rather than inside and outside) of school, but lacking skill and wisdom, the children create that which dehumanizes: they set themselves on fire and ‘plank’. Children will be creative in one way or another; it’s foolish to pretend that they, equipped with the tools and presented a limitless and constant audience online, won’t create. Ignorance isn’t bliss; it’s dangerous.

In its efforts to prepare children for ‘the real world’, schools leave kids with one option when it comes to releasing creative urges: doing it at home alone. Unguided and untrained, kids create self-destructive culture. Their only guidance for how to engage with the real world in areas outside of academics comes from programs like The Real World and what other children are creating online. The arts function as guides by which to understand the world, and when arts are poorly done, people can become poor in areas of relationships, families, etc., having never been taught how to act properly. This is especially the case when the family structure is waning. When children cannot get life lessons from their parents, they get them from their televisions and laptops. When these mediums are filled with crassness, children have no other standard by which to determine how to live. Undeveloped, unguided, and equipped with abilities to create content online without anywhere else to release creative urges, children then become gears in the machine that dehumanizes them.

Lacking wisdom, without the capacity to recognize or create crafted art from crass art, children will fill the internet with poison. Often one on the internet is bombarded with information they have no choice but to at least see. Hence, it is inevitable that the poison will reach everyone: they will be unable to escape, the internet being so large, so quick. Since the capacity of children to discern art and humanities is placed beneath competence of math and science, children, especially when on their own, will be helpless to know which influences to let in and which to keep out. They will have no shield with which to defend themselves against the Leviathan of crass culture.

V

Art has been accused of causing mass killings, debauchery, etc. Take Columbine: many speculated that heavy metal contributed. What should be done? Censorship in an internet age will never outpace users and will ironically only increase the production of, and interest in, what is censored. Censorship will not erase the desire to create, only frustrate it into directing itself toward the destructive. Besides, even if the internet wasn’t too large to censor, one doesn’t know what to censor until after a terrible event; retrospective, censorship is always behind. Rather than try to shut down various music genres or shows, people should ask why they come out in the first place. To censor is to address symptoms of a culturally systematic problem — the fall of artistic literacy — and censorship will not decrease internalization of what dehumanizes.

The only solution is to increase character and discernment, and this will naturally move society as a whole from the destructive to the constructive, from crass to craft. Though math and science are important, emphasizing them over the humanities deemphasizes capacities necessary for a people to craft culture that doesn’t self-destruct. Culture is going to be created and creativity is going to create something: denial of the inevitable makes the inevitable a problem. A failure to develop positive creative skills in schools will only increase the venting of these capacities in manners detrimental to society. If heavy metal contributed to Columbine, it is clear art is powerful and influential. Therefore, a tremendous way to improve society should be directing and strengthening creativity for good. Failure to do this by doing nothing or stressing retrospective action like censorship will usher in the bad, for children will ignorantly improve their skills on their own and direct them without experience and/or wise guidance. Failure of society to properly emphasize creativity causes its corruption.

Culture will be made, and it will be made in the image of its creators. The children of today are the creators of tomorrow. If we do not do something, tomorrow’s world will be full of children who cannot discern the difference between what dehumanizes and what enlivens. The greatest gift the current generation can give the next is teaching it how to live. If this age cares about tomorrow, it will enable children to have craft rather than be crass.

People will be creative, especially children: the question is only how. The internet isn’t going away, so the question is what will fill it? The dehumanizing or Dante? The choice is ours, and the sooner we overcome the easy temptation to be crass, the sooner we will engage in crafting a new and beautiful world.

So, should we get rid of the internet?

Let’s just change ourselves.

2020 UNO Prize Finalist. The Write Launch. Iowa Review. Allegory Ridge. Streetlight. Ponder. Pidgeonholes. W&M Review. Poydras. www.ogrose.com

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