In the 1990s, as an adolescent, in the small town that I grew up in, there was not much to hold my attention or answer a million questions I had about everything. When I was not making barely serious enough attempts to stay out of trouble, I would be reading anything and everything I could lay my hands on at the local British Council Library. There were not many shelves in the library that did not receive my attention, even on topics that I could understand little of. And my first memorable interaction with a computer was with the terminal attached to their cataloguing system.
It was around the same time that I first started hearing about the internet and a fancy bit of technology that enabled users to browse virtual worlds. Clubbing those with my favourite distraction I came up with a naive vision of the future where I could go 'vitually' to any library I wanted in the world and read all that I could. Few years later, I was introduced to dial-up internet, Netscape Navigator became a familiar bit of software, VRML failed to live up to its promise, the virtual libraries never manifested, but I found another universe of learning online.
I owe a lot of what I have and what I know to a lot of people. Most of them faceless and represented by walls of text posted online. I do believe that we significantly underestimate the impact the internet has had on humanity in allowing people the freedom to express themselves. Publishing your thoughts to an audience is a concept that is innate to us digital natives. It may even become the most-used form of communication for the generations that are to come, but we should ignore, at our own peril, how we got here.
Looking back in history, the same act of publishing was not available to everyone. Even before the advent of printing, the written word and knowledge was the domain of a select few and knowledge was hoarded and kept away from the masses. Even after Gutenberg's game changing contribution in the form of the printing press, being able to express freely was not an option available to most for centuries to come.
In essence, what we take for granted today is something over which many have been persecuted and killed.
It is easy to overlook all of this when you post a blog, tweet about something or post a comment on one of million websites on the internet. We tend to forget that what we enjoy today is a privilege that most of humanity did not enjoy for many hundreds of years. It is a privilege that a vast percentage of humanity won't enjoy for many decades to come still.
In saying what we normally say and write online, we often forget that essential, yet hard-to-find, quality of humility. We don't have to write tomes expressing something deep, technical and complicated to make it worthwhile. We just have to remember in the bits and bytes we contribute, we are in real-time leaving behind a legacy that will be looked up by generations to come.
The internet of today has swelled not only in terms of the consumers, but also in terms of the producers of content. Unfortunately, this has also resulted in an increased degree of intolerance and a disposition towards outshouting each other. To be online today is to be put through a wave of half-truths, misrepresentations and spite to a great extent. In opening up the tools to publish one's self to a much wider audience, we have allowed the immediacy and reach to mesmerize us than the be influenced most by the value of what we have to say.
I find it very saddening that such a powerful tool is now used in ways that spread so much misinformation and spite. I guess a little more of consideration, a little less of aggression and a whole lot more of helpfulness can't be too much ask?