On Digital Embarrassment
by Charlie Steele
I was born in 1992, and for some of you, here is a bucket for you to retch into because of that statement. I am a part of what they call the Internet Generation, or Generation Y, Z… something… Can’t actually remember. I’ll google it later. Anyway, it means that I don’t really remember a time when I couldn’t immediately google anything. I do, however, for those of you walking around born in 2000 (I know) remember dial-up. I imagine when I’m old and my health is failing, in a home full of other Generation Y’ers, they’ll play the dial-up tune to get us to fall asleep and stop screaming.
I am also quite an anxious person. The internet is simultaneously the best and the worst thing for an anxious, bit-weird-but-not-that-weird teenager. On the one hand, the worst of my youthful mistakes are probably documented in a folder in the furthest reaches of the internet (come on, we all wanted to be MySpace famous). On the other hand, when once someone like me would have felt progressively alienated by my peer group, having most of my sensitivity and spark stamped out of me, the Internet kept it alive. On the Internet, I was the person I wanted to be. This was helpful, as the likelihood of me making it as a rock star in rural Cumbria was unlikely. It was a form of expression that didn’t need the same level of devotion that a sub-culture did. I dabbled with being a goth a bit, but I lacked conviction (this is a problem which still plagues me. It is why I like brackets so much.)
The digital and the corporeal worlds are still separate. That causes some issues. For example, it’s quite astonishing the things people think it is okay to put on the Internet. ‘Cause, you know, it’s not real? We are either people who grew up with the Internet, or people who grew up without, and regardless, we don’t know what the fuck we’re doing with it. We’re like Harry Potter if he’d been given the wand without Hogwarts and had to doss around central London fending for himself for 7 years (a book we would all read and a fanfiction I am now googling). We laugh that our parents don’t know how to use Facebook (and no, they don’t). However, the sad truth is that those of my generation have all done the following on the Internet:
a) drunkenly confessed our love for someone
b) confessed our love for someone then pretended we were hacked when said hottie did not return our feelings
c) “LOLLL SOOOOO DRUNNNKKK!!11 look aT all the fun im havni!!!”
d) measured our worth by the number of followers/friends/likes/ we have
e) spent a whole day staring at a screen
f) cried because someone was rude to us on the Internet
g) accidentally sent a bitchy message about someone to that person
h) that other thing I am well aware that you did
Not that our parents didn’t make mistakes. They did. But they understood the gravity of them. They happened to them, physically, not through a faceless omnipresent middleman. From libel to adultery to hate speech, there are lots of things one can commit with the least amount of significance and ceremony possible. This lack of ceremony is what worries me. We need to elevate the Internet to reality status as soon as possible. That is, we need to realise what we do on the Internet, has ramifications in the real world. Sounds simple enough, but it’s an understanding our society still lacks. It’s not ‘the cool, wacky future, yeah, where’s my hoverboard lol’, it is a terrifying wasteland where the worst and best pockets of humanity flourish alongside each other. I don’t want to have to be embarrassed when I explain that I met my best friend through Twitter (hi rey_z luv u babe) anymore. There are people printing bullets off of this thing; compared to that me and my Twitter pals are very sane. A lot less embarrassing than the fact that we are using this thing that we have no idea how to order or control.
Not that I’m going to fucking solve it, look at me, I’m about 12.