I’ve grown a little tired of social media/screen time/the constant plugged-in-ness that my friends, family and I have all fallen into, over the course of the last few months, especially. I’ve become a little cynical about it—perhaps overly cynical. And to combat this mindset, I’m going to try to write a letter of gratitude to the Internet, because I recognize that my life has played out much differently than it would have without it. (I also recognize that this letter is nowhere near comprehensive, as far as recognizing the Internet’s net impact. It’s not trying to be.)
Anyway, here goes:
The other day, I drove myself and my roommate home from hours spent at a coffee shop doing work—much of it online—through Carrboro’s frozen neighborhoods late at night. The navy blue sky, white moon and orange street lamps painted the road in that contrasting, suburban-magic kind of light. “A World Alone,” the final track on Lorde’s album Pure Heroine meandered and built in that mythical sound brew she consistently concocts.Halfway through the song, she posits one of my favorite lines.
“Maybe the Internet raised us,” she sings with feverish intensity.
That short sentence threw my roommate and I into impassioned discussion about how much Lorde just GETS IT. Then we proceeded to launch into, “Raise a glass, ’cause I’m not done saying it. / They all wanna get rough, get away with it,” and finally belted, “Let ’em talk ’cause we’re dancing in this world alone!” This was a normal drive for us.
My thoughts on that song and those kinds of moments sum up a feeling I have about you that’s pretty hard to pin down.
You, Internet, are a vast infrastructure of individuals positioned on an entirely new plane. And you’re a big part of my life. You have been since I was about 11 years-old. Aside from some particularly incredible teachers—friends and family members included—you’ve consistently been an important piece and platform of my education and overall happiness.
You’ve allowed me unprecedented exposure to music I may have never otherwise heard about or had the opportunity to delve into as deeply as I have, (for instance: the aptly named The Internet.) You’ve allowed so many artists to begin even making music at all. You’ve shifted our musical climate irreversibly, giving resources, tools, inspiration, access and exposure to makers and consumers alike.
You’ve made possible my Netflix problem. (But it’s really more of a solution, am I right?) You’ve created the concept of binge-watching, which I first perfected with 30 Rock, then Orange is the New Black, then Parks and Recreation. So much of my laughter has been delivered thanks to you.
You’ve made social media into a phenomenon millions can’t imagine living without. You’ve allowed for easy access to people half a world away. You’ve allowed for shared milestones, shared mourning, shared hilarity. You allowed me to blast my melodramatic (but SO REAL) emotions to my peers in my adolescence in the form of Facebook statuses, and you helped me keep in touch effortlessly with my closest friends who live states away. You’ve allowed for people to meet others like them and form communities. You’ve expanded the number and diversity of voices that get to be heard. Thanks for that one. Really.
You’ve also been my world-wide classroom. You taught me all of TED’s life lessons. You taught me how to play guitar. You exposed me to spoken word poetry when I needed to hear it. You have connected me to so many people who were incensed about the same things I was incensed about. You’ve allowed me to discover publications that relate to my interests more than Us or People ever did. You’ve re-introduced “sharing” into our collective vocabulary as something that’s important in maintaining relationships and educating one another, beyond the context of toys in elementary school classrooms.
And the experience of gaining tons from the collective consciousness stored in you, if we’re being honest, really has not deadened the experience of face-to-face connection for me. Thinking back to that night spent belting pop songs in my station wagon: I recognize the enormous sea of people I have access to via you, but I also fully appreciate the singularity of people I care about with your help.
The lyrics speak directly to my introverted tendencies: I know how to be alone, to learn and cultivate what I think, to engage quietly and often online (i.e. “Maybe the Internet raised us.”), then to come back into the social world more mindful and ready to engage with the people in my life (i.e. “You’re my best friend, and we’re dancing in this world alone!”).
You’re a platform for messages, learning, indulgence, anger, connection, anonymity, changing things, criticizing, escape and engagement. You’re good for a lot of things, and you’ll forever be only as good or as bad as the people who log on.
a loyal user and contributor