In the 21st century, the Internet stands as a testament to the fruit of human innovation, potential, and collaboration. But somewhere along the way, it has lost its true essence, replaced by a monotonous hum of superficiality, addiction, and vanity.
At some point, divisiveness, hostility, and sensationalism became the primary mainstream view of online interaction and engagement. But it wasn't always like this. For a time, the Internet was associated with learning, exploration, and self-expression.
It is vital, therefore, to rediscover and understand the core values that make the web a great place to be today, and elevate us beyond the confinement of current perceptions. Regarding the online space, how ought we conduct ourselves? What should we strive to accomplish? And where are the best places to hang out?
A Web Built On Shared Values and Interests
We live in a hyperconnected world. No longer are we bound by the limitations of the past (like physical boundaries) - which means we are connected to many people in a variety of ways. So this begs the question: what are the most meaningful, significant ways we can be connected?
First and foremost, having a relationship with God is the most important connection there possibly is or could ever be. Secondly, the family unit is the strongest, most important set of connections within the material world. Next, there's a duty and obligation to your local neighbors, your church, and your community. But after that, connecting with people comes down to two things: shared values or shared interests.
Today, many internet users settle for maintaining dormant or stagnant connections online, whether that's based upon someone you used to bump into in high school, someone's friend of a friend you met at a party one time, or an obligation to accept a connection request from that one work colleague.
I'd like to set you free from that - you don't need to maintain online connections with everyone you may have met "in real life." That isn't to say you should go out of your way to close off those connections, but I would encourage you to budget your time and attention to focus on new, potentially more fruitful connections. It's a matter of opportunity cost and the finite time we have here on Earth.
What kind of music do you like? What is your dream vocation? What belief or cause do you feel strongly about? Who have you always wanted to meet? What wild and wacky hobby have you thought about, but never dove into? These are the questions you should ponder - and then seek out connections related to those things.
You can jump into the social network you use now, use an online forum, find a chatroom, request access to a video game lobby, or join a Discord server to find new people to meet. The possibilities for making meaningful connections are almost endless!
An Others-Focused Web
Most people default to being self-focused. So instead, opt for a more others-focused presence online. Use your words to lift others up, ask about their dreams, aspirations, what they love, and be others-focused. Many modern platforms are designed to bring attention and focus to yourselves instead of others - so brave that uphill battle and be creative about how you can draw attention to other people.
An over-emphasis on self can produce a particularly nasty kind of narcissism that ultimately ends in depression and loneliness. While self-expression is a gift, carried too far and without restraint, the end product is suffering.
In a more extreme example, a prioritization of self-indulgence over all else is destructive. Left unchecked, hedonism is a path to slavery to your vices. Sir Edmund Burke put it this way:
"Men qualify for freedom in exact proportion to their disposition to put moral chains on their own appetites. Society cannot exist unless a controlling power is put somewhere on will and appetite, and the less of it there is within, the more there must be without. It is ordained in the eternal constitution of things that men of intemperate minds cannot be free. Their passions forge their fetters."
-- Edmund Burke (1729–1797)
Creating your online profiles, filling out your "about me" sections, and even publishing a personal website is great. But ultimately it should be serving a higher aim than merely being a "temple" for yourself. Instead, view your web presence as your vessel to make new connections with others whose lives you may benefit or enrich.
An Authentic, Truthful Web
Drop the vanity, the pretense, and the pride. Share what you genuinely want to share. Your motivations shouldn't be related to how you come across, but rather what properly communicates your message to the world. Share what you think is important, fun, interesting, horrifying, sobering, surprising, mysterious, and what it is in which you desire others to participate in awareness.
Don't worry about presenting yourself in an overly polished way. Perfect is the enemy of great. Put something out there - it doesn't have to be excellent the first time.
Tell the truth online, or at least don't lie. "Misinformation" has become a buzzword within the last several years, but don't confuse true misinformation with "information you personally do not like." Grapple with the distinction between truth and opinion, and don't get them confused to the best of your ability.
Assume the best from those with whom you disagree. Establish common ground and clarify aims - it should be to reach the truth (and come to a consensus if possible), not to win. Reducing the goal of debate to simply wanting to "be right" is a waste of time and energy.
For anyone you come into contact with who aren't interested in authenticity and truth, try to steer them a bit in that direction and do it out of love. The truth will set them free.
A Web of Creator-Consumer Mindfulness
Currently, the vast majority of time spent on the internet involves consuming rather than creating. There's nothing inherently wrong with that, but ultimately you are in control of your time, so you might ask yourself: what creator-consumer ratio do you want for yourself?
Examples of consuming include watching YouTube videos, reading social media posts, or listening to a podcast. You might have a certain level of input and involvement, but ultimately you're being served someone else's work.
Creating is like building a website, writing poetry, or editing a video. You have complete control over what's made. It's the fruit and result of your labor - not even always necessarily something created from scratch, but also something ongoing or honing your skills in a particular discipline.
Sometimes the lines can be blurred between creation and consumption, and that's OK. One of the internet's many benefits is the ability to participate in interactive mediums humanity hasn't experienced in previous generations.
A Web Devoid of Chronological Snobbery
Claiming "newer is better" or "things were better back then" can be misguided. Nostalgia's charm and today's luxuries both have their place and don't have to be mutually exclusive.
To me, this point is particularly relevant with the "old web" revival going on recently. Various manifestos imploring us to go back to a time when the web was more wild, wacky, and fun have popped up as a response to the homogenization of modern social media platforms.
It's tempting to think websites from 2004 should be the standard for today for their charm and personal touch, but it's fair to say there are aspects of the modern web we'd be missing. Better security, more widespread internet access, an abundance of relatively cheap hardware, and browser extensions are all examples of improvements we enjoy today that don't detract from what made the web special in the late 90s and early 2000s.
Mobile responsiveness is a great example. A modern website will look fantastic and optimized for widescreen displays, while also flexing automatically to fit a vertical visual format like a mobile device. It's an overall better experience for a wider number of site visitors on a larger variety of form factors.
An Accessible Web
Related to mobile responsiveness, consider the way you use the internet, including your motivations for using it, the hardware peripherals you use, the software you use, or even the protocols. Each of these aspects that characterize your use of the web may not be how someone else may use it. People with disabilities, who use alternative platforms, or have a more limited internet connection can benefit greatly from your deliberate efforts to make your contributions to the internet more accessible.
Whether it's including alt-text on your images, subtitles in your video content, or well-structured markup on your website, consider how to format what you create in a way that's as accessible as possible. Participate in tagging and linking to relevant places, resources, and individuals. Research standards and best practices and align yourself to those if it's feasible.
A Distraction-Free Web
Leverage crowdsourced solutions to issues like privacy, security, and a better user experience. You don't always have to settle for what services provide out of the box - you can customize your experience! Ad blockers, privacy enhancers, and browser extensions are just a few examples.
If you find yourself addicted to a social media website or spending too much time using a mobile app, set up boundaries for yourself. There are plenty of guides, resources, and software that can help you minimize or remove distractions (even if the distraction is online usage itself) so you can get back to prioritizing what's important in your life.
A Decentralized, Self-Hosted Web
As tech becomes more accessible and easier for the layperson to use, seeing an increase in platforms that aren't controlled by one company or entity can be an improvement in several key ways:
You have control over your own data (where it's hosted, what's shared, what's used)
More ability to customize for the needs of each user
Not reliant on an external third party for access to vital online services
Helps foster a DIY spirit, increasing your knowledge and skills
Potential cost savings and consolidation, with fewer accounts to manage
Current barriers to this being more fully realized include the technical knowledge required, having to still interface with third parties to stand up a solution, and understanding the relevant laws and regulations involved. Hopefully, in the future, these issues won't be as big of a deal, and self-hosting will be more common.
The Web3 movement touches on this a bit, using blockchain tech to give more power to the user. But it's too early to tell whether or not this is really the direction the web will be going.
As Google recently announced, Gmail accounts that have been inactive for over 2 years will be deleted, effectively shutting down access to millions of created accounts and causing a loss of billions of files. This is inevitable if we continue to use free email services that are ultimately owned by other companies.
An endeavor for a better web isn't about embracing or rejecting progress. It's about embracing the best of both the old and the new. It's focusing on a set of principles that are grounded in truth, honesty, and integrity. It's about love.
"The three most important things to have are faith, hope and love. But the greatest of them is love."
-- 1 Corinthians 13:13
Ultimately, our online presence is a reflection of who we are as people: our values, preferences, likes, dislikes, hopes, dreams, and priorities. So to create a better web, we have to focus on striving toward holiness first. Then we can take our renewed spirits to the digital realm and help make a positive impact.
PS. If you want to help make a better web by creating something positive in the world, check out my new ongoing project, david.qa! It's a website answering your questions about making websites. Check it out here.
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