So, I can sit in my living room and as soon as I hit “publish” this article will go live, reaching…. ooh, tens of people I imagine. My blog will be global though, instantly, amazing. However, having spent an hour at a primary school e-Safety meeting tonight, I’m beginning to think that might be where my internet savvy skills end. The presenter spoke extremely knowledgeably about a previous, similar evening where a seven year old boy told him he had watched someone hang themselves, live, (absolutely no pun intended) online. He was worried he might now get in trouble. How do we live in a world where technology has enabled this to happen? Everyone my age has “Googled” the words ‘bum’ and ‘sex’ when they were younger, only our “Google” was the paper version of the Oxford English Dictionary. Kids now really can use Google and the number 1 hit from the magazine Cosmopolitan will certainly dispel 10 myths they never thought they knew about bum and sex. So how do you stop this? Well, knowing how the technology works in your house helps but having real offline conversations with your kids works better, unsurprisingly and internetmatters.org can help with both.
Phew, so now I can put the internet back in its place and get on with life then?
Well, no. I can’t. Let’s start with Facebook, that repository of truthiness. Yes, it can deliver a kitten shooting fireballs from its mouth upon request and it’s where a grumpy puppy can amass 54,896 followers. It’s also where I am reminded of my friend who blogs the most amazing, delicious vegan recipes interspersed with chilled out stories of her life. I encourage you to have a look at abitofthegoodstuff.com and applaud this use of the internet enormously. Facebook is also where I discovered today that a friend has had a really rough day. Unlike many others, I like even posts like this. They are real. They hopefully provide a genuine means to vent frustrations and connect with supporting friends, easily, when health issues prevent people from doing so offline. What was my friend’s particularly issue today? She was on the receiving end of a particularly vicious civil servant, defending her right to receive disability living allowance when her ignorance of aids that could help her was dismissed with one word: “Amazon”.
That’s my second gripe about the internet. Because it is online, or on Amazon, we can assume it is part of our social consciousness, automatically? Estimates of the size of the internet in 2013 suggest that there is more data online than there have been words spoken by the human race so far. This friend is recovering from cancer and chemotherapy and has been thrown head long into a world of other health issues that virtually all of us have never even heard of; and I hope we will never suffer from them. Yet this friend has effectively been told that she should, indeed must, live a significant part of her life online to be cognoscent of all potential support. Maybe the fireball shooting kitten or grumpy puppy would have cheered her up. Perhaps the vegan recipes, cooked by a helping friend with higher energy than she has, would replenish key nutrients. But SHOULD she know the precise nature of all possible aids simply because they are neatly described on one of the more than 14 trillion live web pages out there? Have we forgotten that we are people first and internet users second? For many parts of the world, particularly those without any support for disability issues, the internet doesn’t exist. Presuming that the internet is so pervasive in our lives filters our experiences to those of the developed world only. Ironically, this shrinks the global village inaccurately, to include only those areas lit by technology.
Animated image of internet use by the hour courtesy of the Huffington Post
I recently had an interesting conversation which feels relevant here, about how the world is basically designed for the healthy. In fact the not so healthy world is also designed by the healthy. The example given to me was a hearing impaired old lady, living at home on her own who is offered a button on her phone that can turn the volume up for her. The reasoning is quite simple: it’s a well meaning “that’s what I would want, if I lost my hearing”. But an old lady living on her own at home is more likely to want the phone to be loud ALL the time. It’s her phone after all. How frequently are normal hearing people making calls on her phone? Why do these rare visitors deserve the phone in its default “healthy” setting? What her phone needs is a button that quietens it, for these rare occasions.
When I think about it, I’m not sure the internet is a place for the fit and well either, most of the time. I’ve used the internet on my phone to upload my CV repeatedly to jobsinlifesciences.com and been told that my CV.docx file is not acceptable, because it doesn’t have a .docx extension. The internet does not intrinsically do sarcasm. I have tried to kill OPPRTUNITY on LinkedIn and failed there as well. This app is a virus of the recruiting world and is busy spamming my connections online despite my many murderous attempts.
The internet will, however, allow my husband to check work emails on a Saturday; respond to the urgent meeting request by booking a trans-atlantic flight, hotel, hire car and train; book two babysitters and a school breakfast club to support the single parent left at home; cancel all UK based meetings for the week and reschedule a call with an Indian based colleague for the train journey on the way to the airport all within 36 hours of the email arriving. Should we be able to use the internet like this? There is some backlash to this, with companies like Basecamp providing their employees with a holiday catalogue to choose from rather than cold, hard cash as a bonus. They have realised that life is about real experiences not online ones and people work better when they have real experiences. That article may have been online, but unfortunately the message clearly hasn’t gone viral yet.
So I’ve browsed the internet furiously in the last few days to book a real life experience: SCUBA diving in the Red Sea this summer. I am going to slide down over 30 water slides with my kids, behave like a kid myself and eat nothing but donuts, pizza and hideously cheap white wine all week, all inclusive. However, right now, I am going to go to bed. I sincerely hope that after you read this, you put down the piece of technology on which you are reading it and have a real experience somewhere. Enjoy it, post photos, I can’t wait to see them.