Psychochild's Blog

A developer's musings on game development and writing.

30 August, 2015

The humanizing influence of the internet
Filed under: — Psychochild @ 10:01 AM

Blaugust, day 30

Technology is a funny thing. It sets humans apart from nearly every other animal on our planet. Every technology has both good impacts and bad, and sometimes its hard to see all the impacts a technology will have is even is having. Throughout history, people have been wary of technology and the changes it brings. For some people, change is always terrifying. But, without change, humanity would stagnate and wither.

Perhaps no change has been more profound in recent memory than the Internet. And, while some people fear the change, others have chosen to embrace it. I think you might know which side I’m on. :)

A change from the old ways

As I said in an earlier post this month talking about social media, the internet is the greatest communication channel ever created. It has connected people from the far ends of the earth. As I said, it had a transformative influence on me in university, where a working-class kid who rarely traveled was able to connect with people across the globe.

But, change also brings disruption. While it connects some kid in the Midwest with someone else in England, it can also replace more traditional communication. Instead of driving to visit a friend, you might just send a quick email. Instead of picking up the phone to call your mother, you might send a text message. Instead of gathering next to the water cooler at work, you might share an email chain. Some of the more “personal” communication has been replaced by online communication. And, for some people, this is seen as a bad thing.

Of course, there’s a lot of hand-wringing about this. It’s common to see people ask, Is the Internet dehumanizing? As usual, we want to blame some new technology for the problems we experience, even if the problems are very old.

It’s a case where a change in how we interact has scared some people.

New opportunities

We might lament things that are gone, but I think it’s foolish to ignore what we’ve gained. The ability to reach people outside our usual circle of influence is amazing and should not be underestimated. Instead of our worldview being delimited by what we see around us, or even what we see on TV, we can see the world beyond our normal view. I can keep in touch with friends from Germany as easily as I can with people across town. I can make those friends in Germany in the first place, even, thanks to the internet! My perspective now is much more global than it was 20+ years ago because my interaction is a lot more global.

My whole career has been possible because of the internet. Not just the fact that I work on online games, but that I work in games at all. I contacted a recruiter though email, and she had contact with 3DO where I got my first job. Each game industry job I’ve gotten since then has been from some online contact or connection. Even now, most of the people I know in the game industry I know from online contacts.

For a while, people wanted to pretend that online relationships weren’t “real”, but I argue online interact is as real as the offline world. I know I’ve grown as a person since I’ve been able to interact with others online. I’ve been able to overcome some otherwise crippling issues because the online world gives me the opportunity to meet with people and learn about them. I’ve made great friends who have enriched my life in way I can barely even begin to describe. So, the internet has been wonderful for me.

Missed opportunities

When I wrote a few weeks ago about social media, a friend of mine that I met online reached out to me and said, “You sound very disillusioned [...], it made me sad.” To which I replied, “I still think there’s good in the internet. I juts view it as [...] amazing potential that’s been unrealized and even squandered.”

It’s disappointing that we have the greatest communication medium available to us, and instead of letting it bring people closer together and bring more understanding, we see people using it to find new ways to drive wedges between us. Particularly disappointing when the people doing it are the ones who say they want more understanding in the world. We won’t get that understanding if all discussions break down to screaming.

Part of the problem is that we’re still not quite used to how the internet works. In the offline world, we have a lot of social structures and (unspoken) rules about how we interact with each other. For example, if you’re eating with someone it’s rude to take food off their plate. When eating with friends, you might ask for a bite if you want to try it out. Only with really good friends does it make sense to reach over and just grab something. We might explain rules like “don’t take food from other people” to kids, but we don’t have to sit down and explain to people the rules; people understand boundaries based on interaction between people in the offline world.

I think it’s this context that we miss in online conversation. We don’t have proper boundaries, and for some people the ability to just scream at others seems liberating. But, in the long run, this is likely to cause more problems as we see more toxicity in online discussions between people who could otherwise benefit from actually talking to each other.

A shout out to all my friends

In the comments are I have my template read, “I value your comment and think the discussions are the best part of this blog.” I put that part in bold, because I really believe that. I appreciate people who come to read my words, and people who discuss my posts. I try to interact with people as much as I can on here. If you’ve ever posted a comment, I sincerely thank you for your time. You demonstrate why I love the internet so much.

I want to give a special shout out to a few people. First, to Belghast for organizing this whole Blaugust thing. He often posts at an amazing pace, and I always wondered if I could do that myself; I think I’ve proven that I can with the right motivation.

Second, to one of my best friends I’ve never (yet) met in person, Dave Toulouse. An amazingly talented game developer who has relied on me for answers to questions I can only begin to answer. He’s one of those people I never would have had the opportunity to talk with if not for the internet, and my life would be diminished for it.

Third, to Ysharros, another long-time MMO blogger. When she lamented “I wonder why [I] felt [I] had to stop writing.” I gave the only reply that seemed reasonable. Seriously, go read her stuff so that she has an audience and feels obligated to keep posting!

And, finally, to all the Blaugust participants. I haven’t had the time to engage with the community as much as I’d like to, but it’s been great to see such activity. MMO blogging may not be as big as it was in ye olde days, but it’s still great to see people passionate about blogging.

I’d love to go into depth about all the people who have shaped my life through online experiences, but this blog post is already pretty long. Even if you’re not listed here, know that I appreciate everyone, and feel my life is enhanced by the interaction I enjoy on a regular basis.

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