Students today seem to both love the internet and feel embarrassed by how long we spend online, procrastinating. We spend so much of our lives online, yet we feel ashamed by it, and it affects our self-esteem. However, denying the importance of the internet in cultivating our minds is a sign that privilege still drives what we think of as deserving, even if the amount of time we spend online suggests otherwise. The internet is making the world a better place and it’s time we acknowledged it. We’re learning more about the world, creating new types of communities and expanding our creative potential.
The internet makes it far easier to keep in contact with your friends and family. Whilst the internet is often seen as destroying face-to-face communication, the internet vastly improves communication which is not face-to-face. Through Skype, I can see and talk to my parents from Nottingham when they are in Manchester. Through Facebook, I can chat with my study abroad friends spread across different continents. Due to the ability to keep in touch with your loved ones more easily, it encourages people to take more risks with where they live and travel as they can still access their home life online, and research new places in advance.
Furthermore, the internet creates new communities, making people feel more connected to one another. Fandoms form on Tumblr over TV shows, books and movies, allowing people to make friends with those who share their interests. The Veronica Mars Kickstarter campaign galvanised fans of a TV show cancelled seven years earlier to raise over $5.5million to fund a film. The internet gives people the power to engage in instantaneous communication with people across the world, meaning that we can form communities based on specific interest areas not only to socialise but to wield power.
The power of internet communities is not only being used to fund film adaptations but also to fund charities. The Youtube channel Vlogbrothers run by Hank and John Green (yes, the guy who wrote The Fault in Our Stars) have formed the Nerdfighter community based on a love of their videos, the pursuit of intellectualism and a desire to change the world. Every year since 2007 they have the run the Project For Awesome (P4A) to raise money for charity in exchange for gifts. They also encourage people to create Youtube videos based on charities which people then vote for to choose which charities are funded. Whilst some may doubt the influence of a group of internet nerds, last year P4A raised over $1.2 million in one week.
Furthermore, many people who feel out of touch with their physical surroundings find solace online. LGBT youth in particular are able to come out and embrace their sexuality and gender online due to the ability to post anonymously, which is particularly significant if they feel they can’t do so at school or to their parents. Internet communities make people’s lives happier and more enriched by their ability to communicate with others like them.
The internet is the closest thing we have to free adult education. If we want to know a piece of information, we can look it up on Google and Wikipedia and instantly have access to articles on that topic. When knowledge is easier to gain, we are much more likely to seek it out. This ease also means that it is easier to find multiple sides to a story, rather than just a single narrative, due to the quantity of the information. The fact that we can then input back into the internet by editing Wikipedia or posting our own content means that we are more likely to engage with this knowledge and debate, as we have a forum to get our voices heard. Students may not engage in as many protests and marches as they used to be but that is because the debate has moved online – the internet gives us the space to express ourselves freely and easily. We are active through blogs, Facebook comment threads and sharing news articles. The internet is not just a form of procrastination, but an encyclopaedia and a political chamber.
Many people see Youtube videos as trivial entertainment, but there are a growing number of educational channels such as Crash Course (another project from the Green brothers), C.G.P. Grey and Minute Physics. The HBO TV show Last Week Tonight with John Oliver is bringing unsung political issues to the internet. HBO is a cable channel in the US which consumers pay for in addition to their other channels, yet its presence on Youtube allows mainstream access to exclusive content. Many have even said that the recent US legislation on net neutrality has John Oliver to thank. And of course, who can forget TED talks, which present diverse issues from a variety of speakers to inspire us to change the world and be better people?
I’m going to go out on a limb here and say that the majority of truly innovative projects today exist online, and the rest are hugely impacted by some form of online presence. Despite its prevalence in our society, the internet is still somewhat untested waters – no one knows the extent of its potential. There are constant projects which are created and expand the world culturally which couldn’t have existed ten years ago.
Also, creativity exists online because the risk factor is significantly reduced. Online streaming websites such as Netflix now produce their own shows such as House of Cards and Orange is the New Black and are extremely popular without a TV premiere. Youtube allows you to make content without a contract with a TV or film studio, giving you more creative control and removing most of the economic risk. If your video isn’t popular, you don’t lose anything, you just don’t gain anything, and you can continue to make content without fear of a funding cut or cancellation. This allows underrepresented or previously powerless communities to create the content themselves that they wish to see.
The internet is a fantastic force which we should not be scared to value. When you procrastinate online, you are engaging in valuable communities, expanding your worldview and consuming innovative creations. The distractions that the internet provides may not make us better university students, however, its benefits make us better people and explorers, which is the whole point of university, or at least it should be.
Edited by Harriet Dunlea