The internet is a powerful and amazing tool of which humans from centuries past could not even come close to comprehending. Vast stores of human knowledge accessible at our fingertips via Wikipedia and their linked sources, the ability to communicate with long lost relatives with just a couple clicks and a few keystrokes, and many other astounding benefits certainly make the internet the most revolutionary invention of the 20th century. As Martha Stewart would say, it’s a good thing.
Yet, if you’re like me, you probably feel guilty about 90% of your internet use. And just as Dante invoked eloquent, extended metaphor in detailing the seven deadly sins and their connection to the worst layers of eternal damnation, so too do we internet users exhibit these traits, and subject ourselves to a seemingly eternal amount of procrastination and self-loathing. Below are some examples of how to spot it, and what to do about it.
You saw this one coming, so might as well get it out of the way. Yes, we all know the internet is a great big socialist experiment in the most efficient ways to distribute porn. Being a sexually explorative guy or girl isn’t in itself a bad thing, but when expensive computational property comes into play, it is best to use a little common sense and discretion.
Whether in incognito in Google Chrome or private browsing in Firefox (for the love of God, don’t use IE), all mainstream web browsers have some porn—I mean gift-buying—mode that doesn’t track your history. Making the conscious decision inform your web browser you are in dangerous territory is a good first step to good behaviors, and remembering that while all porn doesn’t equate to possible viruses, ads, on even the most reputable of sites, might. Don’t allow the demons of your better nature click that sexy, sexy ad tailored specially to your own kink. Have a working anti-virus program AND a spyware detector. Microsoft Security Essentials (which is now Windows Defender in Windows 8) combined with Spybot are two free anti-malware programs that, if updated frequently, should be able to catch almost anything you come across. Use them regularly.
But as important as it is to keep the internal workings of your machine in order, keep the physical components clean as well! Even if you think nothing is tarnished in front of you, after some shameful browsing, for your own peace of mind that you are not some disgusting caveman, wipe down your damn keyboard and mouse! Especially if you share a device for god’s sake.
Again, it may be easy to pick on a particular stereotype of internet users here. Browsing the web, being a sedentary activity, we sometimes think of internet users as a generic heavyset white guy. I speak, however, of a different sort of gluttony. We are all internet users, each and every one of us, and proper PC care behooves us not to be gluttonous little piggies for media, or at least be smart about it.
Your computer or laptop can probably hold quite a bit of video thanks to Moore’s Law continuing to be true, however you don’t want to be the kind of media hoarder that pushes his PC to the brink within weeks. I too, wanted to never let go of Joss Whedon’s little-known two-season epic sci-fi Dollhouse which I had downloaded via perfectly legal means (naturally). But sure as I may watch it years from now, I’m not going to next week, and slowing down my computer just isn’t worth it.
When downloading large quantities of high-quality video, it’s important to remember not only to regularly delete the video you downloaded, but also to empty your gigantic, stinky trash bin. Every handful of times you have to empty a crapload of media files, take the time to defrag your computer (if you’re not computing in the solid state hard drive universe). Simply deleting your gigabites of video won’t improve your PC unless you remember to defrag. Taking care to be a properly educated media glutton who can clean up after themselves will keep you from being erroneously accused of “getting viruses” anytime the computer slows down after heavy downloading sessions.
CLICK TO WIN, millionth customer notifications, and Nigerian scammers. One might argue, that these are not examples of greed, just stupidity. But in the words of my immortal grandmother, stupidity isn’t a sin, it’s a human condition. To get scammed out of anything on the internet, apart from being phished or legitimately hacked, there needs to be a baseline of human greed–an expectation of something, or a lot, for little-to-no-effort. For a con artist to get you hook line and sinker. Keep not only a skeptical eye as you navigate the dark alleyways of the internet and your own mailbox, but keep the dollar bills out of your eyes and remember there are only a handful of legitimate, and not -so-legitimate ways to really make any money on the internet.
One might also argue that using adblock falls into this category of greedy internet users, as so many web sites sustain themselves solely through ad buys. Viewing their content without viewing their ads is “stealing,” many say. While I do not subscribe to this mode of thinking, it is at least internally consistent logically, and there may be sufficient reason for us to all look internally and feel bad about the adblock phenomenon. Yet, I can’t help but be eternally grateful that adblock saves me from having to worry about autoplaying, loud, obnoxious Febreze commercials, always embedded into the tab you just can’t find. So for now, I will continue to bow to the sinful, false-God that is adblock plus without losing much sleep over it. Yes, we serve ads, but if you hate them… by all means, use adblock and replace the ads with cute pictures of cats.
The internet is a wonderfully cognitively dissonant place–a universe in which we choose the stage, the show, and the audience. We are king or queen in our own private kingdom, and what ho is this internet that be our jester. Entertain me, thusly, little Reddit alien. I seek pictures of LOL cats. Between picture aggregating sites, Tumblr, Stumbleupon, Facebook games, and so many other mindless engagements on the web that tickle our brain just enough to think it’s doing something.
Even when going from Wikipedia page to Wikipedia page or news link to news link, what we might consider a noble use of a modern tool, researchers have found that information addiction is in fact a real thing. It is good to be informed, but one is reminded of the “Sieve and the Sand” chapter of Fahrenheit 451 where the protagonist, suddenly rendered with enlightenment, wants to learn anything and everything he can, only to find his brain has information pass through it like sand through a sieve.
There’s a lot the internet can do for us individually. It enhances our own personal quests for research, personal fulfillment, or is even a healthy outlet for community socializing. However, it’s important to take a moment and take stock of whether (or which) sections of your internet time are really helping you to grow as a person, and what is simply information or graphics passing by you like a sand through a seive, rendering you a mildly entertained, drooling sloth, not nearly as cute as the actual animal.
It is an old, and thankfully, worn out quote about internet flamewars: “Fighting on the internet is like competing in the Special Olympics, no one really wins and everyone looks retarded.” As much of a sin as it should ever be to repeat that cringe-worthy quote, so too should putting any real emotion into feeding the trolls, or worse, boiling in rage over an internet video game.
I’m a gamer too, and everyone knows in video games, just like real life, douchebags abound. The only proper thing to do is ignore them, and move on. It’s not difficult to block a player on your 360 or WoW who is constantly spamming you with criticisms of your skill, weight, orientation, or the specific weight and promiscuity of your mother. A troll is like a problem child in high school, needing your attention, and to them, any response is a good response. In chat rooms, archived threads, and in a lot of there internet, there is plenty of space for calm, rational, reasoned discussion about all sorts of things, even if all participants aren’t acting as such. It’s when otherwise rational people suddenly think that because they’re in an online environment which is not acting respectfully, that they are equally entitled to being a terrible example of a human being without it reflecting on their character. Responding to a jerk with screaming over a microphone headset, blasting the N-word on 4chan, or Doxxing a creepy subreddit subscriber are never justified, no matter how big a troll or colossal the asshole is on the other end. It’s probably not justified. You’re just wrestling a pig in the mud—you’re both getting dirty and the pig’s having all the fun. Calm down and look at some kittens.
Besides an ever-growing reminder of all the new technology you don’t, and probably never will have, constant internet use reminds us of so much else we are deprived of. Far off lands with beautiful beaches, lands with competent mass-transit systems, whatever is lacking in your hometown life, or a reminder of how awesome life could be is only a mouse-click and a pageview away.
Maybe you can’t you afford the best MacBook or a flight to sunny Rio de Janeiro, but at least all these beautiful women in your city are looking to sleep with you. In addition to having to constantly see these taunting ethereal vixens (always in your area, forever out of your grasp), you’re also forever-connected to facebook through your computer or phone, always seeing updates of who’s boinking who, and who you don’t have anymore, but someone else does. Yes, envy is a cruel mistress, and many a facebook creeper has had to learn the harsh lesson after one-too-many bitchfests to their friends who are no longer tolerant enough to listen.
Look away. Just look away. Good things come to those who cultivate a confident outlook and pleasant demeanor, not those who opine about what they don’t and cannot have.
Pride is a tricky sin, and something most of us look on as a virtue these days. Gone are the times when someone would be shamed for boasting about their work success. Now every achievement must be blasted on Facebook, and pride is somehow the advocated default status of our youth. What I am criticizing in the culture of entitlement and constant need for affirmation my generation is guilty of. The “BE PROUD TO BE U” mentality. “I am a proud, confident, female!” I have heard said with all earnestness. Well, it’s good to be confident, and certainly no one should ever be ashamed of being female, gay, Native American, or from Montana—but you’re proud to be you? I’m not coming down on things like gay pride or Irish pride. I understand words can have multiple meanings.
Your friends probably won’t tell you, but just because you have forty albums of random nature and odd-angled shots in varying filters under your Facebook pics, you are not automatically an artist. This isn’t to diminish anyone’s creativity—it’s good to experiment with new media and new forms of expression, but it’s when every single person with a Tumblr account thinks they’re going to be the next big thing that we have a problem. With entirely straight faces people who have created nothing discuss beginning their career with their “brand-building” twitter account. With so much accumulated ego, we begin to teeter far from the left fulcrum of fear-of-pride-stifling-our-development well onto the right side of the “OMG-look-at-how-talented-and-pretty-I-am-generation.”
There’s no real cure to this sin, apart from finding a new personality or dropping acid, but taking a moment to ponder how freaking awesome the internet is and how much bigger it is than our individual lives just may help some more prideful persons to edit just a bit before instinctually hitting “share.”