The Internet is not a Four-Letter Word

Over the last year or so some of the most popular search terms for this blog have been related to whether or not the Internet is good for our social skills.

I’ve had an online presence since the spring of 1999 and ever since then have heard the same arguments against spending time online trotted out regularly. Today I’ll be pushing back against the assumptions behind them. The arguments are in bold and my comments immediately follow.

The Internet is dangerous. Actually, most cases of rape, child abuse and certain types of murder are committed by someone the victim knows. Anyone can lie about their identity, past or intentions. Of course we should be cautious around people we don’t know well but meeting online doesn’t make “John” dangerous any more than meeting “Sally” at a friend’s party (or being related to her) makes her a trustworthy babysitter.

Internet relationships don’t foster genuine connections! Tell that to my husband. 😉 Longtime readers already know this but we first met on a message board many years ago. I didn’t know what he looked like until we met in person but I loved the man I’d gotten to know through email and phone calls. Yes,  one should be cautious in the beginning while you figure out if the other person is whom they claim to be but this is true of any relationship.

The Internet is destroying our social skills. I’ve never seen evidence of this. There have always been (and will always be) rude and polite people in this world. No technology can change human nature.

The Internet undermines local relationships. To be honest I do think access to the Internet has changed how often some people spend time with neighbours and acquaintances. Twenty years ago one’s social circle was almost always limited to people who lived nearby: coworkers, neighbours, friends of friends. If you shared common interests and a similar outlook on life this worked out well but it was also incredibly isolating for anyone who deviated from the norm. It’s much easier to pine for the good old days if you’ve never had to worry about being ostracized or discriminated against.

3 Responses to The Internet is not a Four-Letter Word

  1. I’m in substantial agreement with you, Lydia. Your arguments seem sound to me. But I do wonder about one thing. That is, whether the anonymity of the net allows some people to feel safe being much ruder than they would be off line? What do you think?

    • Hey Paul, I’m so sorry about the delay in responding to you. I have a respiratory infection and have been sleeping away my days while I wait for the antibiotics to kick in. 🙂

      I don’t know if Internet anonymity affects how rude people are or if we are simply more likely notice threads, blog posts, etc. that end up with rude responses. There are a lot of people in this world who are terrible human beings. They may pretend to be good or kind in order to impress others but their true selves shine through when they meet people who can’t fight back or do them any good.

      Are people like this more likely to be rude online? It’s quite possible. But I’d also argue that they’re just as awful in real life unless they perceive you to be in a position of authority over them or they think you can help them in some way. The other 90% of the world sees a much darker side to them.

      (There are also many wonderful people in this world! But that’s not as relevant to this discussion.)

      • Sorry to hear about your infection, Lydia. I wish you a speedy recovery.

        I think you make a good point about a certain sort of person — the sort who will mistreat anyone they feel is in neither a position to help nor a position to threaten. The world seems to have enough of that sort.

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