Are you old enough to remember the buzzing, hissing, alien-like dial tone as the internet cut off the phone line and came slowly to life? (And did you also use this long, drawn out alien song time to go and make a snack? Just me?)
Back then we were told that you were 100% guaranteed to be stalked and murdered if you so much as thought about talking to a stranger on this new online world.
These days a decent chunk of my day consists of communicating with strangers online, (hi!). Now we are inviting internet strangers on dates, showing them photos of our dinner, commenting on their dogs and summoning them to our location as a taxi.
I got my first Uber a year ago and I could not get the thought out of my head “I’ve literally just gotten into a strangers car off the internet”. It went against everything I was taught growing up! It felt weird! Wrong even! My driver didn’t speak to me once, not even to acknowledge my obligatory mention of the weather or to add comment to my “Has it been busy today?”, a question which I assumed was a necessary part of any taxi ride. The silence that followed this question made me 100% sure that my driver must be a killer. I watched the little dot that was this silent stranger and myself as it moved along the little map on my phone until it, to my immense relief, pulled up at my destination. I hadn’t been murdered or kidnapped! The sky seemed bluer, the grass was greener, I was alive!
I’m 31 by the way, not in my 60’s as my lack of Uber experiences may suggest. I’m from the that in between generation that has experienced the world both ways. I remember the days before the internet, before mobile phones and auto correct. As a child we would lie on our backs in the grass and point out cloud animals instead of scrolling Facebook, your position in Hide and Seek could not be determined by Find my Phone GPS, and knocking on someones front door and asking their mother if so-and-so ‘can come out to play?’ was the way to see your friends. If someone knocked on my door now I’d probably lock myself in the bathroom until they left, what kind of psycho turns up to a house without phoning first?!
Like everything, the internet has its good bits and its bad bits. (Have you ever read the comments under a controversial news article, that is a dark place to go.) But then there are the good bits. I found both my rescue dogs from posts on Facebook, their sad little faces pleading with me through the screen until we went and got them. It was how I hired all my wedding vendors, social media pictures and posts on community pages letting me know exactly what they were about. And then there are the strangers that turned into friends. Unforgettable memories made with people who had previously been just a photo on Instagram. A message in my inbox later and I was hiking the Milford track with them, going on cruises and overnight trips and generally becoming the kind of person that doesn’t need to hide in the bathroom from the stranger at the door.
Then the horrific shooting in Christchurch happened. The live stream was uploaded to Facebook and strangers on the internet gave it life. It spread like wildfire. A cruel disgusting stream of hate oozing like poisonous goo past the pictures of dogs in clothes, the unicorn memes and your neighbours #blessed moment with her #sp of her pretending to eat a magnum ice cream. The internet showed its dark side as it let this sickening thing come to life and spread like a disease. Curiosity overcame humanity as it was clicked on. The ignorance of the people who shared it seemingly hidden behind a screen.
Cover pic by my internet friend: https://www.instagram.com/musephotography_thelifeofamuse
You can use the internet to come say hi: