Stranger Danger.

In the dark ages, there was an overwhelming sense of confusion that manifested itself in human’s day to day lives. It shone through their speech and their preconceptions of themselves and those around them. If something came up in conversation that they were unaware of they had to stay unaware; they had no means of furthering their own personal knowledge outside the walls of childhood education. People were forced to live a life of mundanity, cruelly separated at birth from the concept of freedom and discovery and thrust into a place of emotional repression where expressions of the self were frowned upon. These were disheartening times to be alive, hopelessness and helplessness reigned supreme.

Now, despite that rather melodramatic introduction, I’m not talking about a time hundreds and hundreds of years ago. No, I was trying to paint a picture of what life might have been like before the technicolour mastermind that is Google burst so forcefully into our lives. The time, for the purposes of this blog, that I shall call ‘pre-internet revolution’. The time that was the Kansas to the Oz we currently find ourselves occupying. What I’m trying to distinguish here is the vast difference in people’s lives, their views and their attitudes pre-internet revolution and post-internet revolution. I remember being a child and having certain values drummed into me with such diligence that there was no way I would ever stray from the path laid out in front of me. Though one of the reasons for this may not be the saint-like obedience to authority of my childhood but because, as a child, I was a right little square. Regardless of the reason for my obedience the point is that I remembered these values and I did my best to stick with them. One of the most frequent values that was offered up to me was the concept of ‘stranger danger’. This barmy idea that every single person, whose mother’s maiden name you were unaware of, was definitely a slinky-fingered child catcher. People were waiting with bated breath on every street corner to pluck me from my carefree life and throw me into the shadowy underbelly of existence. Well, either the shadowy underbelly of existence, or the shadowy storage space at the back of a white Transit van.

It’s true though, back then strangers were one of life’s great plights. Every six months or so a message would go around school to tell us an unusual looking vehicle and been seen lurking about so if we were walking home, don’t get into any unusual looking vehicles. I’m not sure what was so unusual about these vehicles. Was it that they were completely spherical, driving on a single wheel and painted like the sky? Surely people looking to steal children should try more incognito tactics. This is my tip for any potential kidnappers reading this blog (I’ve got to cater for all kinds of readers), stop buying unusual looking cars. Just buy a normal car like a Fiat Panda or something next time you go out on the prowl. Anyway, as I was saying, it seems to me that back then ‘community’ was not preceded  by the word ‘online’ and it was literally impossible to be ‘social’ whilst sat alone in your own bedroom. These days though, that has all changed. We’re living in, what I’m going to call, the post-internet revolution. The results of this are both incredible and frightening simultaneously.

The internet is a truly fantastic medium, that is an indisputable fact. The vast leap forward in technology has shaped our society unbelievable amounts. We can now carry millions of songs and movies around with us in our pocket. I can send a document from my home in Liverpool to somebody on the other side of the world in a matter of seconds. I can talk to friends face to face without even getting out of bed. I can look at a map, plan a route and then go actually onto the road to see what it looks like with no trouble whatsoever. It truly is unbelievable how much the internet and the technologies that have been born with it have shaped society. However, much more than these practical things, the internet also has the power to shape people’s views and attitudes towards the world. The way we see the world now is completely different to the way people saw it twenty years ago. To carry on the theme of stranger danger, no matter what our ‘internet safety’ guides tell us, talking to strangers is all part and parcel of being online. There are websites devoted to doing exactly that. You can go on and be anonymously linked to a complete stranger (also anonymous) and have a conversation about whatever it is you want. We read blogs or tweets about topics that interest us and then we openly talk to people, in comment sections of websites or on hashtags, that we don’t know about said topic. We live in a world where to ‘follow’ somebody you don’t even know is a perfectly acceptable thing to do.

Now, I’m not necessarily condemning this. I’m amazed by just how good a medium the internet is for connecting people with similar interests. The thing is though, with all the information that is now available at our fingertips we begin to question and to worry less. If Google or Wikipedia tells us something then we take it as pretty much gospel truth. It feels almost that our awareness levels are dropped and so are our guards. There are now new superpowers, not America or China, but things like Google and Facebook. Slavishly we sign up and join in with the Facebooking, almost every aspect of life can now be linked back to Facebook in one way or another. Advertising companies point us to Facebook pages, we ‘Facebook’ people we meet in real life, we share our thoughts and our memories via status updates and photo uploads, we tell Facebook pretty much everything without even thinking. Things we like, people we like, our personal details, our marital status. The list goes on. What I’m getting at here is that in a pre-internet revolution time if somebody would have suggested we handed all such data over to one company in return for the benefit of being able to keep in touch with people (a lot of whom we don’t really care about) with ease. People would, I’m assuming, been a lot more wary and probably shunned it as an enormous con. However in our current age, in our post-internet revolution days this seems almost completely natural.

I’m going to leave you with this thought, is it time to reassess how we approach the internet. Is it time we started becoming more aware and more wary of what happens when we hand over our very being to online companies? Perhaps it’s time for us to consider what could be going on here and the sheer scale of it. The internet has undoubtedly changed our society, but it also has the power and the influence to change our views, opinions and attitudes on things. Such a power is a frightening thing. In the novel, 1984, George Orwell writes:

“Don’t you see that the whole aim of Newspeak is to narrow the range of thought? In the end we shall make thoughtcrime literally impossible, because there will be no words in which to express it. Every concept that can ever be needed, will be expressed by exactly one word, with its meaning rigidly defined and all its subsidiary meanings rubbed out and forgotten”

Think about that next time you ‘Like’ something.

Joseph

                                                                                                                                                                                                                       

Thanks for reading! I realise the enormous amounts of irony now in me asking you to leave a comment telling me your thoughts or to tweet this or Facebook it or to follow my blog. Still, you should do those things.

I move to University tomorrow, so I imagine Monday’s blog post will have something to do with that. Thanks again for reading!

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Comments
2 Responses to “Stranger Danger.”
  1. Winston says:

    Interesting post. Just a couple of quick things. “Stranger Danger” is alive and well and living on the Internet. I’ve seen grown ups get played online, and had to step in too prevent my then thirteen year old from getting played by a much older guy.

    As for the pre-Internet dark ages. I grew up back then. Self expression was no more frowned on then than now. ’50s=Greasers, ’60s/’70s=Hippies, Drugs & Free Love, ’80s=Punk, ’90s=Metal. There wasn’t mass confusion, during the Cold War, it was more like mass certainty. Without the Internet’s easy access to other views, We were the good guys, They were the bad guys. Way less confusing.

    If we encountered something we weren’t familiar with, we didn’t have to remain unaware. Pre-Internet, we had these weird things made of former trees. We called the books, and we could look things up in them. Of course, we didn’t have Google to do the search for us.

    I like your use of Orwell at the the end. I would argue though that the powers you ascribe to the Internet have existed for a long time in the form of books. The power of the Internet lies i it’s ability to allow us unprecedented access to information. How we use it, and allow it to use us remains the core issue. Newspeak can only triumph if we limit ourselves to the most popular results in a Google search. If you look at result 7,897 of 14,758,856, you get a different view than the mainstream.

    Cheers, Winston

    • I know what you mean, I was playing on the whole ‘dark ages’ thing more as an attempt for humour than anything else. I was trying to convey a sense of like Medieval Britain as opposed to like twenty years ago.

      I realise that people did, and still do, use books to define their thoughts on the world but I think that more people now are shaped by the internet as it’s something that nearly everybody has access to. Whereas, not everybody reads books, sadly.

      Thanks for your comment though, it did make me realise a few things that perhaps I’d glossed over.
      I’m glad that my blog at least sparked some sort of discussion though.
      Much appreciated,
      Joseph

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