The Internet Makes People 2D

I’ve been quietly stepping  back from the Internet, mostly on accident. I got extremely busy over the summer and didn’t have much time. When I started to have slightly more down time, I began to notice how increased time online was both hurting me and making me angry. Over the last 24 hours, I’ve been distracting myself from dealing with real feelings by instead focusing on why every time I get online, I walk away quickly feeling frutrated and tired. (Emotions my real life has enough of in spades; I don’t need to add more.)

One of my favorite websites ran an article that has sat with me for a while: How the Internet Flattens Generations. In my increasing frustration with the Internet, I come back to that thought: the internet flattens generations.

My husband and I have been talking on-and-off about how the Internet narrows our focus down to really minute places. We don’t see whole pictures — we get really hung up on minute-to-minute dissections of tragedy and horror and human pain. We tend to get over the happy endings and the resolutions of issues pretty quickly. Oh, ho hum, story over — where’s the next piece of tragedy porn for me to obsess over?! We’re gobbling up the Internet’s obsessions with bad news after bad news after bad news — then going out into the world with a conclusion that the world is exclusively bad.

A sidebar: I don’t think that addressing the problems in our society, the horrors that occur worldwide, and all of these things is a problem. We need discussions of the bad in the world, because if we cannot see the bad, we cannot be good and become better. Making the world better for everyone can’t exist in a vacuum, and is impossible if we refuse to even see the problems. But they have to be discussions, not just endlessly yelling LOOK AT THIS BAD THING IT WAS SO BAD I HATE THIS BADNESS THIS WORLD IS BAD END IT IN FIRE.

(I think this is how Batman got his start. BRB becoming a vigilante.)


At some early morning post-nightmare sleeplessness, that commentary and this idea smashed together and helped me realize how to express my frustration. The Internet flattens us; it makes us two-dimensional, strips us, and redefines us. We are not treated like people under an umbrella of labels; we become a series of labels, and our personhood becomes defined by if the person on the other computer can relate to them. The empathy doesn’t seem to kick in until we’ve seen some signifier that says, Oh, this person is like me, and therefore is a person. 

This is not a new or revolutionary idea. I’m not the first person to talk about how a lack of empathy and anonymity make the Internet kind of shitty. And I’m not the first person to say that we carry the Internet with us. The Internet is not some alternate dimension that never touches ours: it comes with us, and what we are on the Internet is with us when we’re not tweeting.

And this is why the Internet is exhausting to me. I cannot take the Internet out of my cranium, I do not stop feeling because I turned off a screen. I’m willing to bet most people don’t have lives that cleanly delineate at “the Internet” and “Meatspace.”

There was this article that went around social media for a few days there called “Why Women Drink.” I read a third of it the first time I saw it, rolled my eyes, and left. But every time it got reposted (because I follow a lot of women who are interested in talking about what it’s like to be a woman) I got more irritated. I have no stomach for generalization, and I abhor being shoved into a box. And here is a woman, saying “Women do X because of Y.”

Maybe the author addresses regional and socio-economic issues that play into her perception of why women drink. But the part I read was summing up to, “Oh, women drink because of sexism.”

You see, because we’re women — and we our identities are either built to please men or built as a side effect of being tired of pleasing men. There is no nuance to us, no humanity, no set of personal preferences, nothing other than Label and Characteristic of That Label. I have no individual reasons for drinking, of course. There is no benign reason for drinking mixed in with some very bad reasons for drinking to make a whole of the reason why I, personally, drink. It’s just sexism because Woman is my label, and every single experience I have must somehow pass through my primary label. That’s the law of the Internet.

I’m cool with people choosing to frame their own lives through their own labels in the way that best pleases them. It’s the applying of ideals and experiences onto the other people, the idea that our specificities are generalities, that bother me.

The final piece comes when the Internet decides that label for you. If the Internet declares that you are a garbage person, well then, you better move into a trashcan, Oscar. There is no whole story. There is no possible misunderstanding. You are a garbage person, after all.

My favorite recent example of this: read any of the public Facebook comments on any of the dozen times “child dies in a hot car on accident” trended this summer. It’s all knee-jerk othering of the parents as the bad parents, everyone decrying how this must have been on purpose because no one forgets a child on accident, and saying the parent should be jailed/killed/etc. No possibility that there’s a whole life behind this parent and a tragedy that belongs to them, not us. No, it’s our tragedy now — and we get to define it to make it fit our worldview.

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