Sunday, December 19, 2010

The Internet: Expanding Our Horizons, Expanding Our World

"No man is an island, entire of itself; every man is a piece of the continent." - John Donne

The following is the speech portion of my English project. While the Powerpoint has some things not within the text, I won't be posting that-- not for any specific reason.

The Internet: Expanding Our Horizons, Expanding Our World

“You are the first generation to be born on the internet. I don’t know how your mom did it, but she did,” said self-proclaimed “Professional Internet Moron” Hank Green in his “Message to the Class of 2009.” We’re a few years behind them, but he may as well be talking to us. The internet came into wide-spread use in the 1990s, and by 2007, according to Global Issues in Context Online, almost three quarters of North America and nearly half of Europe had and used internet access. In 2008, 22% of the global population was online—three times as much as in 2000 (“Internet”). This trend manifests in two ways: increased individual and group reach, and the integration of the world’s myriad of cultures.
 Not only is the world using the internet more than ever, but we seem to think that we need to use it. According to a poll by the BBC World Service in 2010, about 67% of Japan's population strongly feels that they could not survive without the internet. 56% of Mexico feels the same way, while only 24% of Americans need to be constantly "plugged in." These percentages do not include those who stated they only "somewhat disagreed" with the statement that they could not live without the internet. When those numbers are added in, the statistics change to 84% for Japan, 81% for Mexico, and 36% for the United States. Companies like Google provide us with dozens of tools that many people—including, I confess, myself—are coming to depend on for day to day life to progress smoothly, and more are announced each year.
It goes without saying that billions use and love the internet. However, it is the young people who know the true power of the internet. Towards the end of his message, Hank tells us that “Not only do (we) understand how it works, but we have a unique understanding of how the world works,” (Green, “Message”).
He means that we know the internet is connecting the people and countries of the world into one collective of shared information and cultural content (“Internet”). This phenomenon is known as globalization—the connecting of distant regions of the world into one global unit. Since the 1960s when the original internet-like technologies were created, some scholars have feared that such globalization will lead to an eradication of cultural diversity, insisting that “Earth's diversity of languages, accents, scripts, musical forms, and artistic styles developed before globalization, during the period when most people were in regular contact only with people in their own social group, (“Internet”) and therefore the unification of these social groups will result in a “uniform global taste.” Whether or not a "uniform global taste" is being created remains to be seen, however, as the internet is simply too new to tell. What is certain is that the internet is exposing people to opinions, images, and information from other countries, fostering greater understanding and knowledge between nations.
I am inclined to believe that diversity will not be lost. When Catholicism took over Ireland, they did not lose the old ways—only adapted them into the new regime. If a priest declared that a stillborn baby had not been baptized and therefore could neither go to heaven nor be buried on holy ground, the parents would leave the baby at the base of a fairy tree, entrusting it to their care instead. Even now, when most Irishmen will deny their belief in fairies, it is as good as illegal to cut down one of these trees (Wood). The current versions of our cultures will fade with globalization, of course, but that doesn’t mean our differences and national quirks will do the same.
If you are one of those who don’t agree with me, however, you need not worry. Countries such as Iran and China are working hard to censor both incoming internet feeds and outgoing uploads. Global Issues in Context Online reports that “"In June 2009, before and following their disputed presidential election, the Iranian government began censoring and blocking such Web sites as YouTube and Facebook and severely restricted foreign journalists from reporting on the protests and unrest that gripped the capital of Tehran." Furthermore, "China employs at least 30,000 full-time workers to censor the Internet and routinely imprisons people for trying to access forbidden Web sites or post dissenting views to the Web… In January 2010, Google announced that Chinese cyber-spies had attempted to hack into the computers at its Chinese office to gain access to the e-mail of Chinese human rights activists,” (“Internet”). Even the ease of communication for which the internet is so famous can become a tool for these governments; with more online freedom, people will share more, alerting organizations as to who needs to be blocked (Morozov).
Censorship is a grievous crime, and censorship of such an enormous source of information is even more so. Fortunately, "citizen reporters" continued to recount and comment on local events by blogging via proxy servers. The Iranian government could block individual servers, but were no match for the thousands of proxies being used anonymously (“Internet”). This past March, Google shut down its Chinese offices and began redirecting users to the Hong Kong site, which is not censored.
 Efforts are being made both for and against globalization via the internet, but political arguments aside, it is difficult to argue that the internet does not have a staggering positive impact upon the world. A fantastic example is the Project for Awesome. As the Project’s website describes it, “Every year, YouTube's Community takes over YouTube for a day, and instead of being stupid or funny or informative, we promote charities. Just one day a year – we'll get back to being silly tomorrow.” Even as I wrote this speech, hundreds of thousands of YouTube users—including myself— were participating in the 2010 event. At the time of writing, over 80,000 dollars were raised in less than 48 hours—and that’s only from the raffles (Green, “About”).
My Project for Awesome video described the charity behind another world-changing event that would not have been possible without the internet: the Harry Potter Alliance and its Helping Haiti Heal campaign. This campaign consisted of many fandoms of various books, shows, and movies joining together through sites such as LiveStream and Twitter to raise over $123,000 to send to Haiti after the earthquake in January. Five enormous jets filled with supplies were sent via this initiative (Slack).
The vast majority of the Harry Potter Alliance and those involved in the Project for Awesome are in high school or college—not adults with plenty of extra money. The internet is not only promoting fast communication and increased availability of information, but it is also providing young people like us with the tools to make a positive difference in the world with an impact that our parents’ generation could never have imagined.
While novels are fiction, the concepts within them are often very real. In Cory Doctorow’s novel For the Win, union workers across the planet fight their bosses both in real life and within cyberspace on blogs, webcasts, and the massively multiplayer online role-playing games that are becoming increasingly more popular within our own world (Doctorow).
That’s not all, though; globalization is affecting the arts as well as youth empowerment, human welfare, and politics. Chris Anderson’s article in Wired magazine, “Film School,” reveals trends in dance: a six year old boy in Hawaii can perform moves difficult for adult professionals simply by emulating videos he has seen online, and groups of Californian teenagers invent their own sub-genres by building off of the videos of others (Anderson). The internet allows people to collaborate and expand to a degree far greater than they could have done on their own or within their immediate surroundings. Our cultures aren’t killing each other off—they’re growing exponentially and taking a trip around the world in far less than 80 days.
Globalization will only increase from here on out; the internet has grown too much and been too useful to take it away. Our duty as its users is to find safe yet productive ways in which to use it. Iran and China block users who are advocating social change—because it’s working (Morozov). YouTube is about more than cat videos and fart jokes (Anderson), as is evident in the Project for Awesome, and the Harry Potter Alliance showed that Twitter is about more than telling your dozen followers what you ate for breakfast. The arts aren’t less good—there’s simply a lot more art available for viewing. We ran out of space to explore here on Earth, and we don’t have the money to explore outer space, so we invented a new space of our own: cyberspace.

Works Cited
Anderson, Chris. “Film School.” Wired Jan. 2011: 23-24. Print.
“Can You Cope Without The Internet?: 2010.” Global Issues in Context. Gale, 2010. Web. 13 Dec. 2010.
Coleman, Kevin. "Unconstrained Cyberspace Domain." DefenseTech. Military 
     Advantage, 12 Feb. 2010. Web. 19 Dec. 2010.
Doctorow, Cory. For the Win. Ed. Patrick Nielsen Hayden and Teresa Nielsen Hayden. New York: Tor, 2010. Print.
Green, Hank. “About the P4A.” Project For Awesome. WordPress, 29 Nov. 2010. Web. 16 Dec. 2010. .
Green, Hank, and John Green. “A Message to the Class of 2009.” Vlogbrothers. YouTube, n.d. Web. 26 May 2009.
“Internet and Globalization.” Global Issues In Context Online Collection. Gale, 2010. Web. 10 Dec. 2010.
Morozov, Eugeny. “The Dark Side of the Net.” Wired Jan. 2011: 23-24. Print.
Slack, Andrew, and Paul DeGeorge. “Helping Haiti Heal.” The Harry Potter Alliance. The Harry Potter Alliance, Dec. 2010. Web. 15 Dec. 2010. .
Wood, Don. Personal interview. 11 Dec. 2010.
Wood, Kathryn. Personal interview. Mar. 2010.

1 comment:

  1. Good luck with your presentation, I like the speech for what it is worth. I did want to note that, while the Internet does present the opportunity for us to examine cultures and views that are different than ours, it quite often is used for the opposite purpose, finding people who share one's point of view. I think the ability to find a sea of consenting voices on the Internet, whatever one's view may be, is one of the reasons that we have seen the fracturing of public opinion throughout the world, and the increasing resistance to cooperation across ideological lines. Of course, I wouldn't want to get rid of the Internet by any means, and there has been evidence that we can overcome this parochiality if we work at it


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