For Better and for Worse: The Human Cost of the Internet

People say the internet is ruining us, but I don't buy it.  It's definitely ruining some of us.  Those of us who are worse would have been watching six hours of TV every day and killing themselves with opioids and cheap beer anyway.  The internet makes them look worse, but the rest of us are improving.

Take one look at any woman who takes Pinterest seriously, and you'll find she's immeasurably better – so much, in fact, that I've gotten to the point where I can recognize Pinterest queens without seeing them on Pinterest.  She finds out ways to make things beautiful.  New ideas for how to teach and play with her kids.  Places to go and things to do that make your life more meaningful.  They compete in beauty tips and cooking with the other women, and this competition makes them better.  They have better pictures because they saw someone else with pictures and they couldn't handle her having better pictures.  They may want to stab each other, but the process makes men more interested in marrying them.

And what can we say for the men?  Smart men are reading more newspapers than they ever were before.  Not just more news, but news from more sources.  They're better at sifting facts and opinions, are better at fixing cars and houses, have better muscles when they want them, and in general have gotten too cultured for Saturday Night Live.  There's nothing you can do about the bottom 10% of either sex except sweep them under the rug and hope you never hear from them.  The fact of the matter is, the internet has only gotten rid of the rug.  

What the critics of the internet have forgotten is that this bottom 10% is here to stay, and there's (at this point) nothing you can do about them.  You can kick them off Alex Jones, but you can't keep them from L. Ron Hubbard.  You can keep them from pages about chemtrails, but you can't keep them from Charles Manson, or Joel Osteen, or Mohammed, or Christian Science, or Karl Marx, or Jim Jones, or Heaven's Gate, or The Secret, or Louis Farrakhan, or Oprah Winfrey.  The gates to humanity were unlocked, and instead of finding the best of us and bettering themselves, they spend their time indulging themselves and threatening the first lady.  It's what they've always done, what they're doing right now, and what they will always do.  

What the internet and freedom of speech do is bolster the best of us.  They have nothing to do with saving all the lost, or getting them to "see the light," or civilizing them, or teaching them the rules of logic.  As the above list of would-be saviors suggests, freedom means slavery for idiots in general.  Those of us who focus on the random pipe bomb-mailer going to are missing the point entirely.  We let some part of us go to sewage so the rest of us can make skyscrapers.  We let the ugliest of us make ugly plans so that the best of us can make beautiful ones.

There is no guarantee that the best of us will ever come out on top.  We never promised they would, and frequently they don't.  What we want is for them to have a fighting chance.  We believe in criticism from any direction because we're never quite sure who's got the best directions.  Freedom of speech means that the top 20% and the bottom 10% are in a war for the middle 70.  We believe that the common man loves beauty and good sense more than he loves villainy and wackadoodles.  It's a gamble we make because the alternative isn't a gamble at all.  The alternative means simply this: that we've thrown off the fight entirely, and we prefer that someone else – usually a thug – decide everything for us.  

Jeremy Egerer is the author of the troublesome essays on Letters to Hannah, and he welcomes followers on Twitter and Facebook.

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