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The 21st Century is Weird: How the Internet has Changed Our Lives

For those of us born from about 1998 to 2003, there’s a weird experience. We both remember a time when the internet was young and social media and other modern platforms weren’t a thing…but also it feels like it has always been a part of our lives. For the good portion of our later childhood and teenage years, most of us have had lives on the Internet, and have watched the Internet almost…grow up with us.

            And this has caused some pretty strange things to happen in our lives, that we either notice in ourselves or in our younger siblings.

1)     School is becoming more and more dependent on computers. anyone remember when you would actually have textbooks in school? And full sets of novels that were to be read for English? Because nowadays, more and more of these books are being retrieved from the Internet by kids in school. Some kids still prefer holding a physical book, but I remember later in high school switching to use my computer more, and my sister has all but tossed out the idea of using physical textbooks entirely. Further, as time forges on, the requirement to “use at least 2 sources that are physically printed books” on research papers and other assignments has begun drift away from us. I don’t remember that actually being a requirement on an assignment at any point after 6th grade.

2)     Internet privacy concerns of yore on social media are just gone. Remember when your parents told you that if you dared tell someone your first name over the Internet, that person was going to track you down and stuff you into their trunk? Yeah, now 8-year-olds have Instagram accounts with their full names attached to it. Of course, this is not to shame those children—their parents are ultimately responsible for their experience on the Internet until they’re at least 13—but dang if that doesn’t give you anxiety to see from time to time if you remember the scare tactic talk. However, you’re still told to be careful WHAT you post online, for a really big reason—schools and potential employers WILL look you up, and if you so much as swear on your social media profile that can potentially cost you a job or a position at a school.

3)     The speed at which you get information has increased dramatically, as well as the volume of information. When we were kids, there was maybe, what, 3 scandals a year? At most? And now if there’s 3 scandals a day it seems very quiet. The trending pages on your social media of choice are fluctuating constantly, very differently from the way that the trends outlined in those preteen fashion magazines you read in 2007 would change monthly. This is a blessing and a curse. On the one hand, we can get information about news stories fast, as well as information that’s not being reported on. And we can see what is going on anywhere in the world at any point in time by just looking at the Twitter threads and news pages written by people in that location. On the other hand, information burnout happens constantly and with increasing severity as time goes on, and you have to be critical of everything that you see because really, anyone can post anything on the internet.

4)     So. Many. Programs. Especially at this time, where everyone has to do work over the Internet. For some people, learning to use and keep track of these programs is simple. For others, it’s a pain in the ass. While one can argue that this is correlated with the age of the user—younger people have an easier time because their brains are still developing, for instance—honestly there are still just so many. Instead of having high proficiency in maybe 3 programs (remember classic Microsoft Paint? We were all experts in 2006), we all just barely know how to use like 40 programs unless our job or our major has us focusing on a handful of those programs. Of course, this isn’t inherently a problem and it will depend on your personal preference whether you see this as a problem.

5)     The creative and fandom scenes are BOOMING. Nowadays you can get so much art and conversation about art at your fingertips. Video essays, digital paintings, professional quality photography…the Internet is your oyster. Can’t go to the museum? You can just scroll through your favorite creator’s art tag and go wild, bro. Want to share your opinion on how BADLY your favorite TV show ended? Chances are there are 300 people who want to hear your take in a video essay or a forum post. You want to find a photographer for a wedding? Forget hiring from a company who pays their employees like trash, you can support a local freelancer you saw on Instagram.

Overall, the Internet is merely a highway for information and it is not inherently good or bad. The good or bad on the Internet is entirely based on the content people choose to post, and not the wavelengths we call WI-FI that let us see this content. And children who now are born with the Internet entirely in their hands aren’t inherently good or bad either. Really, all that these things have shown is that the world has drastically changed within the past ten to fifteen years, and a giant factor is how the Internet has grown and changed in that time. For better or for worse. 

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