Signal to Noise Ratio Online

This week was much quieter than previous weeks. It’s not that there isn’t as much going on. I suppose it’s just that I’m tuning it out more and focusing on my own issues. Caring about other people’s problems is a luxury and a burden, and sometimes that burden just gets tiring.

What I mean is that there are people on social media platforms that are constantly whining about the plight of some particular group of people or vociferously advocating some political agenda. There’s so much spin online that it’s a chore to try to find content that doesn’t suck and to sort through the noise in the responses to see if there’s anything meaningful.

I’d like to think that there was some magical era in the Internet’s past when this type of behavior didn’t exist. I remember trash talking in AOL chat rooms in the late 90’s. I remember griefing in MMO chats in games like Ultima Online and World of Warcraft. But it wasn’t this widespread and pernicious. It was localized. It was something you could turn off and walk away from and it was separate from your real life. Or at least that’s how it felt.

Probably three things led to the escalation and spread of the problem: smartphones, more widespread social networks like Twitter and Facebook, and the idea that you should use your real name online and “put yourself out there”, which later evolved into the idea of building your “personal brand” online.

The idea that you could turn yourself into a “brand” and attract attention led to polarization to gain and influence people politically, which fueled the spread of conspiracy theories and crackpot ideas on all ends of the political spectrum. And of course there are all the idiots eating tide pods and creating challenges to monetize their notoriety.

I had this idea when I was a kid that the Internet was going to help me learn things and that I would meet interesting people from all over the world that could teach me how to be a better person. In some cases that’s true, but there’s a lot more chaff than wheat in the field.

I guess I need to put more effort into curating the content that I look at, but the Internet seems geared towards overcoming people’s personal preferences to push sensationalized content for ad revenue. I would like to believe that if the barrier for self-hosting content (like, on a server in your house) were lowered both in terms of education and hardware/access costs (some ISPs charge extra to open the ports necessary for a home server to connect to the Internet) then we could overcome a lot of this BS, but I also feel like this somehow ties in to larger issues of wealth disparity and that some people are willing to push anything online if it’s going to make them money.

Maybe I’m just getting old and this is the equivalent of wanting young people to stop playing their boomboxes so loud, but I hope that one day the Internet is more than it is today in terms of quality.

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