Yet another statement of the bleedin’ obvious, I know but bear with me. Way back then, in the long ago, when the internet was all static pages of text about particle physics and Terry Pratchett, it seemed to be that it was all about having new and interesting experiences at 56 kilobytes per second, or thereabouts. One of the happiest sounds I knew was a modem handshaking with the world. I remember getting my first email account at St Andrews in about 1988 before the internet was even a thing. I know that I didn’t use it much. I saw everyone else I knew with an email account every day anyway.
I used to read stories in the Grauniad about how the internet – now it was invented – was going to change everything. We would all be able to talk to one another, there would be no more barriers to communication and it would all be simply marvellous. Well then, that turned out to be one of those wishes about which we really should have thought twice. We can now all talk at one another, there seem to be no barriers to any fucking communication and wouldn’t it be simply marvellous if some people just fucked the fuck off?
I don’t think anybody imagined that neo-Nazis would get an internet connection too. It was unanticipated as the superabundance cat pictures. Controlling the media is a basic totalitarian tactic. Our political masters would love to be able to do the same but they lack the commitment to do it in a thoroughgoing fashion. A cynic or conspiracy theorist would say either that they already do control both the media and the messages on it, or that the owners of the media already control the politicians to a greater or lesser extent.
We all know how important the internet has become. Our body politic is a cyborg now and we can’t be sure where some of the signals controlling it originate.
What prompted all of this wasn’t politics but personal relationships. I remember having an absolutely wonderful time when I was single on the internet. Looking back, I was using my privilege as a middle-class, white man but I hope I was always respectful when I went out on a date. My wife and I met on a dating site well over a decade ago, on the forums first and then in person. I don’t think we matched with one another but we got on very well when we met up so sometimes those algorithms must have been talking mince.
I don’t think things are as easy now for people. I hear horror stories from my friends on dating sites of shitty behaviour from shitty people. When I were a lad and Shep were a pup and it was all fields round here we used to view internet dating forums and the like as just an extension of the social sphere and the usual social norms would apply. There were always arseholes of course but they were small in number, easily identified and isolated and we could look after one another. No real man would ever have identified himself as “involuntarily celibate” for example. The most we would admit would be a bit of a dry spell but it was all going to be fine. We were on a dating site after all.
Now we have toxic masculinity. The things which were once private – the domestic violence, the gaslighting, the belittling, the objectification, the denigration, dehumanising – now have a public outlet. The small men doing huge damage to wives, sisters, mothers and children can share what they do with other small men.
I’m not sure what I wanted to achieve this evening. I seem to have spent the last hour or so remembering how wonderful things were in the good old days and how fucking awful things are now. The best thing about the internet now is that like minds can now connect across the world much more easily than they ever have in the past. The trouble is that that is also the worst thing about the internet.