This is as complete a document as I can think up. I hope I've covered it broadly enough.
- 1 What the internet is
- 2 The library analogy
- 3 The internet as a library
- 4 Trustworthiness
- 5 Costs
- 6 Costs and trust
- 7 "Free"
- 8 Trust, redux
- 9 "Using" the internet
- 10 Interaction
- 11 Victim culture
- 12 "Drama"
- 13 Decay
- 14 Speed
- 15 The law
- 16 Overall
What the internet is ∞
To learn how to "use the internet", one must first learn "what the internet" it is.
First, all analogies are false. Drawing a comparison between two things works only to a point. That point is to leverage the listener's understanding of one thing to help them understand another thing. Every analogy falls apart when examined closely.
The library analogy ∞
This analogy is a good starting point because most people don't merely "know" what a library is, but have experienced one. It's reasonable to argue this is less true for the younger generations, but certainly the document's audience will understand.
Let's ignore how libraries have evolved, and keep their description simple. A library is a building with written works; books, magazines and newspapers.
One can walk to a library, through its doors, see shelves of books, go to one, pick a book and open it to a particular page.
The internet as a library ∞
The internet is not a library. Remember that analogies fall apart quite easily.
One "walks" to the internet by turning ones computer on. One walks through its doors by opening a "web browser", a specialized tool used to "browse the web". It gets complicated from here.
Neither a library nor the internet is curated. Publication does not bestow veracity. Publishers don't verify, editors don't verify and even authors may not verify!
Each book is a made by one or more people, any or all of whom can be wrong or worse; liars. They are making money from their book or the results of their book. There is a long history of con artistry.
The best chance a reader has of finding a book with verified truths in it is when it's under scrutiny by groups of trusted individuals. It also helps when there are serious consequences for misleading a reader.
People misunderstand books as having authority, and that once something is visible to many people it must be verified. The problem with publication is that this opportunity only happens after it has been released. This means that for any book, its correctness can only be hinted at by examining a chain of criticism after its publication! Even then, there comes to be a web of criticism and revisions. This is why popular oft-published topics tend to be more trustworthy over time.. but even then there could be a new an popular untruth that finds its way to visibility and the whole chain of criticism must begin anew. This is a big problem with so-called "new age" nonsense and their gullible readership.
How a reader comes to trust anything is ultimately in their own hands. Just remember that whenever someone can make money, they might lie for it. Also, ideological agendas, echo chambers and other issues exist.
In the same sense, no website or web page is curated. There is no concept of verification or trustworthiness. Like a page in a book, a web page is something you must decide to trust.
It becomes even more difficult to come to trust a web page because finding "balanced criticism" may be difficult or impossible. Sometimes it needs to become a hobby for one to unravel and learn all that knowledge. If it matters enough, it's a worthy pursuit to do so. It's the intellectually-honest thing to do.
Once printed, a book is "done". It takes money to pay for the property tax, lighting and people associated with the library. Most if not all of that money is extracted from taxpayers. The point to remember is that once printed and delivered, the author is not responsible for the book.
The internet equivalent of books is websites. Websites have direct costs for their author. For a reader, it's a one-time fee to buy a computer, but internet access and electricity are ongoing expenses. Websites work somewhat the same, where authors who want their web pages viewable on the internet need to pay its costs.
Because web pages cost money to "host" (make viewable on the internet), the content needs to generate revenue. One way is the same as magazines; advertisements.
One would normally think of advertisements in the traditional "billboard" sense. A separate well-defined space which has something distinct from the content. Like a postcard stuck in the middle of a magazine, it's easy to see the difference between the magazine and the advertisement. However, just as magazine advertisement has evolved past this tradition, so has internet advertising.
Costs and trust ∞
Because web pages have ongoing costs, the entire internet is inundated with advertisements. The alternative to advertisements is either viewer-donation, like some public radio and television, or entirely for-pay subscription websites. In this case, a reader pays for the privilege of reading. This is like members-only "viewing library" (as opposed to a borrowing library). Think rare books.
Things have changed significantly since traditional advertising concepts. For example, "native ads" sneak products into the article. A "top 10 shampoos" article may actually be entirely paid for by the shampoo that just happens to win first place.
Magazines evolved such trickery to infect their readers with advertisements, but the internet is much worse. The trustworthiness of a web page is already questionable, but because of the necessity for revenue, money corrupts everything.
Nothing on the internet is free. Someone somewhere, somehow, pays for anything you look at.
You might be offered any number of things to see and do on the internet for "free", but wealth has to be extracted from somewhere. Even if there are no advertisements, there is always money involved. There are no exceptions.
|The kind of website||Revenue source|
|A government website||Taxes|
|A product website||Product sales online and in the real world.|
|A newspaper website||Paper sales and internet subscriptions for old articles.|
|A blog provider||"Freemium" - free to anyone, but money for extra features.|
|This blog||My pocket|
It bears repeating that there is always money involved and there are no exceptions.
Even if a person hosts using their home computer with its home internet connection, they're paying for the computer, for its electricity and for its internet access.
Trust, redux ∞
Because everything costs money, every web page and website needs to get that money from somewhere. When money is on the line, trust must always be in question. Don't blindly trust someone who needs to make money from you. Don't trust someone who starts talking with "trust me".
The internet is largely questionable. Random people writing random crap, all indistinguishable from con artists.
It's even worse than real life, because if a store rips you off at least you can throw a brick through their window. Or more likely take them to court. The internet has all manner of international borders, legal barriers and other complexities.
"Using" the internet ∞
"Using the internet" is about as strange a phrase as "using a library". I suppose one could talk about literacy, choosing books and reading habits. There's no real point with that though.
Instead, let's talk about the sorts of things this medium can offer.
- The written word
The written word ∞
Imagine that in a library one could read a complex book. Each page might have footnotes. At its end it may have endnotes. These could be written by the same author, but they could reference other books. University students make such copious references for their essays.
The internet's "written word" is something like the printed word. Paragraphs and pages and books exist in a sense, and they can reference things written elsewhere. This is done with "links". These are one-way pointers to some other web page. They are like references for a student's essay, except these "links" can directly take the reader to that other referenced work.
It really is as powerful as reading through a novel whose author references another novel. It's as though the second novel is at hand and is automatically opened to pages and paragraphs referenced by the first.
Photographs are an everyday thing, digitized and put online. Cameras are cheap and common, and putting things on the internet is trivial. Pictures are everywhere. Images are now so common that people are so uncomfortable with text they have trouble reading without it being broken up into pieces.
"Infographics" have become increasingly common, with a sentence or just a statement laid over an image. Sometimes the image isn't even related, and sometimes the image is a reference to a style of statement. In some cases these are created as a sort of "inside joke".
Just as cameras have become common, video cameras are now common. A good video requires much more skill, but even amateur videos are being put online. People like sharing.
As of this writing, 300 hours of video are uploaded to YouTube every minute (source). Take a moment to consider this.
While much of it is amateur, much of it is semi- or professional, and even the poorly-paid are capable of feats unheard of in the past.
As with images, videos often cater to low attention spans, regularly using unnecessary images or text. That which would be a distraction to a sharp mind is now a necessity to most.
Audio is pervasive in video, so much so that a simple person talking in front of a screen isn't enough. Background music, intro (start) music and outro (end) music are frequently seen as necessities. By "content creators".
When you sit at your computer and read a web page, you aren't a person sitting on a chair in a library reading a book. The website isn't a library, the page isn't a book, and you are perhaps comfortable at home. In this way, others cannot pass by you and see that you are you, and you are reading some book, and perhaps see what book you read.
There is no casual way for someone to pass you by and know what page you read on what site you visit. Other people may be at their own computers viewing what they wish and none of them know about the other.
There is, however, a chain of understanding from yourself to the provider of a web page you read.
- Your room
- Your computer
- Your internet provider
- The internet provider of the website you visit
The owner of the website you visit
Your identity is not, however, transmitted from one end to the other.
- Your room
- Your computer isn't thinking and only remembers what you tell it.
Your internet provider
- They recognize your household and know who you are so they can bill you for your internet usage.
The internet provider of the website you visit
- They only know your internet provider and some basic information your computer must submit to fetch web pages for you.
The owner of the website you visit
- The website knows what its own internet provider supplies, which is usually everything available to it.
We frequently provide significant identifiers to the websites we visit, some intentionally and some not. The idea of "anonymity" is not something to casually pursue, and should remain in the realm of those with specific and significant interest in it.
However, one person on the internet does not know much of anything about the next person on the internet.
On being "real" ∞
Interacting with other people is a service provided by websites, and these usually require a person to create a user and log in. In general, the information one gives to a website is only as real as ones email address and a reference to ones internet provider. It's possible to use a "disposable" or "temporary" email address provided by a service like https://10minutemail.com/ but hiding the reference to ones internet provider and unique computer are, again, in the realm of people pursuing that specific hobby. Yes that's possible, and that's something to keep in mind.
Making ones self "real" on the internet is usually done for online stores, where ones credit card information, telephone number and mailing address are given. However, on random websites, one would never need to do this. Even when donating or paying for a website, ones payment information is never given to the website but is used by a "third-party payment processor" company like PayPal.
Just as ones self isn't generally "real" on the internet, the same is true for others. Thus reveals a major complexity in interacting online.
Interacting with others ∞
Just as you yourself are not clearly identified, others are also not clearly identified. This creates two things to note.
The first is that words on the internet may be labelled as being from "a person", but there is generally no way to know if every "person" on the internet is really unique or if they are all the same person. Sometimes a person will create what is called a "sockpuppet" account, and they will puppeteer it for it to act like another person who agrees with them.
The second is that the further away a person is from the consequence of their actions, the more likely they are to be more animal. People get more angry or deceitful when they are hidden from their audience. If you don't think people can and are like this, think of the people you have known in life. Perhaps you think to yourself "I don't know anyone who would act like that". That's the point, you wouldn't be friends with people like that. Your friends wouldn't be like that to you, that's how friends are. Complete strangers, however, divorced from the strength of your character, act in altogether human and inhumane ways.
Accountability diminishes with distance. Think politicians and generals.
Also.. sometimes people are cruel out of boredom. Yes, it is truly that bad.
Visibility of evil ∞
Imagine there are three sorts. Good, neutral, and evil.
One tends to stay in ones "good places", skirting its edges and occasionally swimming into interesting new "neutral" spaces. We read the articles and watch the videos of our favourite content providers but occasionally our curiosity pulls us away to see other interesting things. The internet has a habit of pulling ones attention in many directions. Such is the power and weakness of having a library where every single book on the continent is the merest finger-flick away, opening instantly to any referenced chapter, paragraph and word.
What one can very loosely call "evil" becomes very, very, visible. Walking out on a beautiful day, a pile of dog duty is obvious. As is the case when surfing the internet and enjoying ones self and some terrible thing is seen. The "bad" is naturally obtrusive because it has such a stark contrast from what we most appreciate.
"The internet hate machine" ∞
Poor attention spans have led to a "shock" culture. Furthermore, it isn't just about audiences as content-consumers merely viewing such things, but the internet makes everyone cable to be a content-producer capable of making such things. There is a culture of one-upmanship for creating terrible content.
It is important to steel ones self. Some things may be forever impossible to appreciate, but in time one may become somewhat numbed to such uncouth humour.
"Personal" attacks ∞
Attacking people to shock them is fairly common. High anonymity giving low accountability makes this a kind of entertainment. It's a sort of low-effort content creation for its perpetrators, called "Trolling".
Trolling isn't just an internet pastime but a sort of olympic sport, sometimes with hundreds of participants and many tens of thousands as an audience. Sometimes, however, it's just targetting you to get a rise out of you.
It's important to understand that words on the internet are just that; words.
Victim culture ∞
Kids these days are so divorced from proper fathering that they have a spine of jelly and will be legitimately upset by combinations of letters on the internet.
However, just as anonymity separates a block of text on the internet from an flesh-and-blood individual in the real world, truth in anything isn't verifiable, including claims of "feelings".
In the same sense that trolling is a sport, claiming to be "upset" is held as a badge of accomplishment by many. This is most especially true for girls and women, who shed crocodile tears and are thereafter showered with attention. Con artists will profit by leveraging flaws in our social psychology, and that includes catering to our need to comfort victims.
Generations of children are growing with a sort of one-upmanship of a "hard childhood". This is more common the less factual it is. The more well-off and "commoner" the child, the more likely they are to make up stories and lie for attention. There really are a lot of tall toddlers online.
None of this would need much of a mention if it weren't so widespread and impactful. Renown national newspapers pick up stories, literal stories.. as in literal lies, because they want to ride the bandwagon for attention. They loan the trust in their name to tricksters. Where there used to be some notion of journalistic research and reporting integrity, these are now ideas relegated to history.
Though it's a restatement to talk about this concept, the word bears mentioning. "Drama" is basically trolling done in a way to publicise the act and generate a kind of "buzz" surrounding some people or ideas.
Sometimes participants are willing, sometimes it's a less-known content creator "punching up" at a bigger one to try to get a response, and sometimes it's because of some outside event that everyone of any renown is expected to have an opinion on.
Waves of drama will wash across parts of the internet. Sometimes they will take the headlines of sites, and sometimes they are only known by cliques in small corners of some websites. Perhaps they last for some time, and even have lasting changes like rings on tree, and perhaps they are short lived, uninfluential and quickly forgotten.
A consumer of old content will often find remnants of drama that will be out of place and seem disproportionate and unimportant, or they may find that something fundamentally important to the future of humanity was discarded and forgotten as though it were a fad. To some, like myself, this is part of the fascination of the online world. And it truly is a world, as most have buried their employment, social and personal lives in it.
The library analogy fails at this point.
The internet has a kind of "decay". This is beyond the notion of the relevancy of older drama.
Old content is rarely updated, and so it does become divorced from context and importance. However, entire pages or websites will either be relocated or go missing. Someone may abandon a particular presence they have, choosing to publish under a new one, or perhaps someone does not care to continue their internet hosting service, to save money.
Some web pages will reference others, and those links are "broken" - they now lead to a page which no longer exists there. Maybe that website renovated, and the link is now elsewhere, and maybe it's completely gone.
As a minor archivist, I do hunt down other copies of pages, but this is generally beyond the ability or interest of others. Places like https://archive.org/web/ try to keep old copies of pages, but it's a crazy idea to "backup the internet".
If you find a page particularly important, I highly recommend saving a copy. As of this writing, I'm still using ScrapBook X, but most browsers have
control-s to at least roughly save a copy. If you care about your data, you will also keep a second "backup" copy in case your storage fails. The importance and methods for Backups are another topic for another essay.
So where a book will last a long time, a website can up and vanish without notice. This has happened with very large websites, so don't ever think your favourites are safe.
Speed needs some mentioning, although it's not generally an issue for most people these days.
The internet used to just be text, but it now full of high quality images, audio and video. These things are more complex, larger and take more time to stream to their viewers.
The need for faster internet is driven mostly by very high-quality video.
Most of the time your speeds are "good enough" to do everything. Whomever provide internet will always pitch for the latest and greatest for "just a little more money", but unless there's a need, don't bother.
The law ∞
In the early days, and having authored it, the United States was the dominant internet user. The internet is very much international now, and although many websites are still hosted in the United States, many are hosted elsewhere.
The law is extraordinarily complex, needing to now cover topics previously unknown or rare. Being international makes it even more complex. As such, every major website, and many other websites, will have their own terms and conditions for use. These will often apply not just to official users and content creators but to casual viewers.
The general rule is that you can't keep a copy of anything unless you specifically check that it's okay. There are some oddities in law that still exist on the internet and empower or shield a user in that country.
All in all, using a website is frequently tied to something like signing a contract.
The internet is a powerful tool with a lot of "stuff", none of which is necessarily true. It is full of people, none of whom are necessarily real or honest. It is literally endless, with more content being produced that one could ever hope to consume. Using it necessitates the definition of goals, and in some cases a hobby must be made of getting the most from it.