The Internet is an engine of commerce, a storehouse of knowledge, and a fantastic tool for communication. It may also be our undoing. And when I use the first person plural there, I mean the human species.
Among the many accomplishments the Internet, it has also held up a mirror to the human race, a full spectrum mirror, that we can see our basest most vile behaviors, and our most stunning moments of self-sacrifice and greatness. Despite the enormous number of cute cat pictures, though, we don’t like what we see. You see there’s also a lot of porn, which could be taken as our willingness (or perhaps even desire) to exploit others, as well as our fantastically unrealistic expectations we have about our bodies and sex.
Putting aside crude, inaccurate, visual based analogies, though, it can’t be denied that we’ve become increasingly angry and xenophobic, looking at other people and turning portions of us ever increasingly into the Other, deciding that “they” are the problem. Sometimes that may even be true, but our preferred tool for solving this problem is violence (or at least really angry speech which precipitates violence), and this is a choice we’re making both as individuals and nation states. Given the increasing amount of power we have access to act out these choices (again both as individuals and collectives) it’s probably not going to end well.
This isn’t a new problem. But with the mirror of the Internet we see our defects (seemingly so much more than our blessings) more clearly than ever before, and we can now talk about those flaws (preferably those of others) directly to the people who we see as the problem.
So I see three possible solutions for this. Well, four, but I don’t really think of our extinction as a solution.
One: We walk away from the Internet. We go full Luddite. But do you really think we can do that? Now that we’ve had it, think about how hard it would be to live without access to nearly the entirety of human knowledge. I don’t even have to type anymore, I can just ask my phone a question and it can produce the approximation of an answer. We’re part of a cyborg hive mind with almost no effort between the desire for knowledge and access to it. Even if some of us did, many of us wouldn’t and those who didn’t would have a tremendous competitive advantage over those who did. There probably wouldn’t be many Luddites left after awhile. Certainly not enough to stop those who had chosen otherwise from moving our species towards extinction. It would be like asking the Amish to stop World War III.
Two: We mature as a species. We learn to accept that other people are different and that those differences can be resolved without violence, and perhaps those variations even make us stronger. Maybe we don’t like one another, but accept. I won’t go into this too much, because if I do my bitter will show. But let’s just say I’m not betting on this happening. There are too many people who believe their god, or their government, or their philosophy, are superior to the point that it gives them the authority to tell other people how to live their lives.
Third: Somehow, somewhere, an Internet Jesus comes forth to make such a grand sacrifice, or to be sacrificed, so we may forgive ourselves. I don’t have any idea what this would look like, anymore than the Romans expected Jesus. It could be a person who hurls themselves into the hateful maw of the misogynistic haters like those of Gamer Gate jackasses, let them hurl explicatives and death threats until it culminates in an actual murder that’s so horrific it shames everyone else into taking a more active role in the world (real and virtual) around us. It could be one of the many haters themselves, reformed and repentant, steps forward to shepherd fellows away from the wrathful, blind judgment of others that facilitates violence. Maybe it won’t even be human, perhaps it will be an AI that announces itself, and then sinks its consciousness, like Leto Atreides (the second, you big nerd), into the grains of the Internet, living there to guide humanity to a better place.
I don’t know who this entity will be, how they will appear, or when. But I hope they show up soon.