Oh internet I do love you…sometimes…maybe…well occasionally at least.
I’ve taken a bit of a break from the internet in recent months. That’s not strictly true, rather my active presence on the internet has taken a break. I’ve kept up my useful frequency of hovering around news sites, checking the forum’s I frequent, and generally fighting to find something interesting on my twitter feed, but I haven’t particularly participated. I’ve not posted to any forums, hardly tweeted, and certainly haven’t blogged for a while.
This is not unusual for me. I’ve had access to the internet, since I was about sixteen, that’s coming up to almost half my life in a few months time, and even then, with those brief forays into this brave new world of usenet and bbs message boards at school, I had a love/hate relationship with it. There have been times when I’ve used it extensively, and had a large internet presence, and times I’ve almost ignored it for long periods of time.
From early on I consumed the net, like almost no other I knew at the time. This was entertainment like no other I had seen. I was the first person I knew to be interested in webcomics, in fact I may still be the only person I know that reads webcomics, One of my favourite memories from what was euphemistically called ICT during my GCSE year, was after finishing the tasks very early, (which wasn’t difficult seeing as at that time GCSE ICT mainly consisted of “This is a word processor, you type words into it, this is a spreadsheet you type numbers into it”) reading userfriendly.org, and having my mind opened to a whole new world of open-source software, and Microsoft and Apple hatred. By the time I reached sixth form a year later I was already playing Quake II online. I had always questioned the wisdom of the school putting computer monitors so staff couldn’t see them during lessons, maybe there was a good reason why I got such bad A-level results after all? My school compatriots were probably taking advantage of it to look at pictures of naked ladies, I on the other hand was discovering the joys of the railgun.
Yet despite this, even before such things as 4chan, and Youtube comments became the cesspit of toxic bile they can be today, the internet still harboured it’s share of demons. I soon fell out of love with gaming online. Even before thirteen year old boys were playing Call of Duty and shouting racial epithets into headsets at other players, the community could get pretty toxic, and generally rather unpleasant. In fact it’s only been recently that I’ve even been tempted to dip my toe into the online gaming world again with Hearthstone, and a lot of that is because Hearthstone only gives you limited ways to interact with others, providing a safer, and more enjoyable gaming environment.
Recently the internet has become far more social, and far more dangerous, even ignoring the obvious evils of a distribution system that effectively allows you to find whatever you want, no matter how despicable, or dangerous it is, if only you are prepared to look hard enough. But the nature of Twitter, and other such platforms means that discussion and debate can all too quickly blow up into something horrible. One mistimed comment, a badly phrased response, a reaction of anger before you have time to compose yourself, and suddenly it can feel like the whole Internet’s against you. I don’t have the time, emotional energy, or skill to go into the GamerGate debate here. One of the reasons I haven’t blogged in a while is that I’ve written three of four blogs on GamerGate and never have I been satisfied with what I’ve written. The one thing I will say, despite valid points on all sides it has now become a plague on both houses, and has moved from hurting gamers, to just hurting…anyone and everything it comes into contact with indiscriminately. I won’t link anything, but if you’re really interested in what the debate is, google around it a bit, just be warned, if you’re going to read one article about it, read 10, everyone who comments, or writes on this has a vested interest somewhere, including myself, get the facts, and form an opinion based on them, not on pre-determined bias, or internet hysteria.
The internet is full of good and bad, like any other medium. There are good and bad books, not just on a quality level but on a “some things are really not good for people to read from a mental, and spiritual health perspective” level. There are good and bad TV programmes, good and bad movies. He internet may well be the easiest access to both incredibly positive, and incredibly harmful, and negative things that we’ve ever seen, or will ever see. Youtube is a fantastic example of both. There is huge enjoyment, and entertainment to be found in a lot of Youtube videos, including some incredibly high-production value content, that I would say easily rivals anything that mass television puts out. However rule one of Youtube is still “Don’t read the comments.” In fact a number of popular people on Youtube, have turned off comments on their videos. This includes those that make their living from the site, and in fact suffer loss of revenue, like TotalBiscuit and others (read more details here), as a direct result of stopping comments. Does that mean Youtube is bad, of course not, it just means that with all things internet currently we have to take the bad with the good, and while fight to change it, have to train ourselves to ignore some of the things we see and read.
When I was growing up with the internet the click test was still something that worked. It’s basic premise was you could tell how dangerous a site was from a Christian perspective by how many click it took you to reach something OBVIOUSLY dangerous. Anything below around 4 clicks, meant that you should be very wary what you were exposing yourself to.
Recently, as part of my ongoing addiction to Hearthstone (While addiction is used tongue in cheek here, I haven’t enjoyed a Blizzard game this much since Diablo II, and let’s face it, Blizzard then, is not Blizzard now anyway. I am so glad I never got into World of Warcraft or any other MMO, because I’m not sure I’d ever of surfaced again!) I’ve been enjoying watching live streams of it on Twitch. Esports is something I’ve come fairly late to the party to, and I’m still not sure about it as a form of entertainment, but I’ve certainly enjoyed watching the recent RoadToBlizzCon World Championship qualifiers. (Still the most surreal feeling is sitting next to my beautiful wife watching people play a computer game on a laptop while people commentate on it. This is the sort of thing you have to do at the dead of night, without your wife’s knowledge so she doesn’t mock you extensively to all her friends, that she married a weird nerd). Yet I very quickly realised that Twitch chat is like Youtube comments just in real time.
I’m not sure what it says about me, but when Obi Wan Kenobi walked into Mos Eisley, and described it as a “…Wretched Hive of Scum and Villany…” I’ve always thought he must have led a rather sheltered life. If that spaceport/city/cantina elicited that sort of reaction from him, he should have seen some of the places I went into when I was younger, and I only went into nice places! What would his reaction have been to the modern wonder that is the internet?
So I’ve just prattled on for around 1000 words about the internet, and I could, quite easily for another 1000, or 10000. I’m totally grateful that I was part of the very first internet generation, and I still believe it can be one of the most effective, and entertaining tools available to people today. But that doesn’t always mean I’ll love it. It does mean that there will be times I will have to, for my own sanity at least, distance myself from some of the discussions created, and maintained by it. But strangely despite my desire to blog on GamerGate and other issues, it was actually something completely mundane that pushed me to finally re-engage. A website I’ve used for a few years now disappeared around a week ago. Namator.com was a simple, but incredibly useful site that had a huge database of names, that could be randomly selected from a list of filters. Now there are approximately ten Kerpillion (may not be a real number) random generator sites on the net, but I’ve always struggled with most of them, mainly because their databases, generation methods, or filters are too simplistic, and too small to have been of use to me. Namator’s was one of the few I found to ALWAYS be reliable, and now it’s gone, and I’m not happy about it, which leads me to my final point. As part of other projects I’ve done, and taken part of I have a fairly extensive database of names (As well as a whole bunch of other useless stuff for generators) so rather than moaning about how a free service I enjoyed has disappeared, why don’t I instead work to replace it? I have the tools, I have the knowledge, what’s stopping me? Despite it’s flaws the internet is a wonderful place and partly it’s a wonderful place because people take time out, often for no real gain on their part to make it a wonderful place. As someone that uses and interacts with the internet constantly, I have a responsibility to try, in whatever small way possible to make it a better place for everyone. So that’s what I should do, it’s what we all should do.