Are Greed and Individualism Destroying the Internet?
How profiteering is pulling society apart
If the internet is a mirror for society, the image it shows us isn’t exactly a flattering one.
As the trend to curate one’s reality continues unabated, many use social media to amass followers and fans rather than what the internet is for, i.e. connecting people.
Often, a conversation about our different realities is all it takes to remember our shared humanness and learn something. Breaking out of solipsism and expanding our horizons beyond our respective comfort zones is how we evolve and how society progresses.
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Regardless of our geographical coordinates, many of us in the Western world have the tech privilege to join in a global conversation on what it means to be a human in the world whenever we feel so inclined. At the tickle of a touch screen, we can take part in discussions and collaborate to advance the common good with whatever skills are at our disposal.
What do we do instead of using the internet to make the world a more tolerant and tolerable place to live and empower one another?
We self-promote relentlessly.
We stage our lives on Instagram and Facebook and Snapchat and turn every human interaction, our predicaments, and our most intimate thoughts into a performance for clicks and bucks on blogs.
Copy dripping with overwrought pathos that exploits people’s insecurities without shame is standard fodder. Honesty and authenticity have become a marketing campaign that yields enormous ROI but fails to deliver what it promises.
And we are just as clueless about our fellow humans as we were before the internet came along.
Instead of talking to one another, we seek out content that reinforces our beliefs as we willingly lock ourselves into echo chambers and throw away the key.
Purveyors of clickbait, meanwhile, are lining their pockets with the proceeds of human distress.
In journalism, human interest stories draw crowds and that’s why many practitioners get into the profession in the first place. We’re curious to a fault and we’re on a mission to pry hearts and minds open with a pen.
Depending on the ethics of a particular publication and the credentials of those who write for it, you may or may not learn anything by reading it.
For example, schadenfreude and voyeurism are the stock-in-trade of publications located alongside candy at the checkout in grocery stores. Conversely, their more reputable counterparts take a deep dive into our shared humanness, seeking to inform and educate.
Generally, editorial lines are very clear and unlikely to cause confusion among readers. And because those outlets do not serve the same target audience, they do not compete.
On the internet however, competing for eyeballs is a blood sport among humans who take to the page and whose aim isn’t always to co-create or contribute anything of value.
If the idea to afford anyone who wants to speak up the opportunity to do so is the internet’s greatest achievement, not everyone plays fair.
Copy that reads like a journal entry or disjointed thoughts scribbled on the back of a paper napkin gets published just to feed the algorithm. Not only does it drown out interestingness but it also devalues the platforms that hosts it as well as the craft of writing.
Who cares about quality as long as you get paid?
Is there any point in calling for editorial standards online as long as typing on the internet keeps being touted as a get rich quick scheme?
We end up with the content that reflects our values.
When those values are all about achieving fame at all cost no matter what for and getting as rich as possible no matter how, this is what we get.
Because of supply and demand rule.
The only way to improve the quality of what we read is to boycott content that plays us for fools by cutting off its oxygen and refusing to support it or give it exposure.
After all, this was always the idea behind the reader engagement model but some are gaming the system and encouraging others to do so because it pays.
There’s probably an engineering fix for that but editorial quality is in the eye of the beholder; a culture that prizes mediocrity and clichés at the expense of critical thinking does not practice discernment.
Should you feel alienated by what passes for culture online, the only recourse is to go against it by seeking out and producing thought-provoking, uncompromising content across the board instead, whether it’s poetry, personal essays, or anything in between.
It may not make you rich and famous, but if deep, meaningful human engagement and connection with kindred spirits are what you’re looking for, this is the only way to find them.
As Tim Berners-Lee — who invented the internet to benefit humanity — said: “You affect the world by what you browse.”
I’m a French-American writer, journalist, and editor living out of a suitcase in transit between North America and Europe. To continue the conversation, follow the bird. For email and everything else, deets in bio.