Columnist: Is a better ‘online world’ a possibility?

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I once saw a cat headbutt a car in Kirkcaldy a few years ago. The car wasn’t moving, but when I laughed out loud – I believe ‘lol’ is the term – it gave me a glower that told me I had better watch myself.

Anyway, the latest series of South Park has been tackling the subject of internet trolling.

The way the animated series has grown from crude humour to a platform for societal examination with added crude humour is astounding, and has often made me question my own views on subjects in a way that few other outlets do.

The latest run of episodes dealing with trolling actually made me feel quite blue about the state of the internet, and reminded me of how I felt after reading Jon Ronson’s 2015 book “So You’ve Been Publicly Shamed”.

It’s an excellent book I can’t recommend enough, but its examination of a certain mob-mentality that occurs on social media really is disheartening. I wonder if we, as a race, are throwing away the great potential that having interconnected computers offers us.

Having instant access to information and being able to communicate across the globe in the blink of an eye has the potential to make us all better people – as well as more efficient workers, of course.

It has the potential to make the powers that be more accountable, to put power into the hands of the 99 per cent – but, unfortunately, that is not what I’ve been seeing.

The ability to say whatever you want to anyone online really has become something of a double-edged sword. Being able to hide behind an anonymous persona has seen a rise in misogynistic and racial abuse being hurled at people.

I am aware that this view is based on anecdotal evidence, but it is hard to deny that anonymity has made some people give in to their darker impulses.

And that’s without even going into the Dark Web.

Part of this is due to a closed-loop of information and confirmation bias that, although clearly in existence before the digital revolution, has increased in recent years.

If you regularly peruse online sites, how many times have you felt downtrodden at the level of discourse?

And on a wider scale, society is still being ruled by a handful of giant corporations and the future implications of that are worrying.

So, if some mad Terminator or Matrix style situation does arise and artificial intelligence is created, would you actually blame the machines for finding us unworthy?

However, one positive view I have heard on the future of our internet use came from stand-up comedian and sports commentator Joe Rogan on his podcast when he said (I paraphrase) that we are in our infancy with this new technology, and are still growing and learning what its implications are. We will mature, and become better for it. I hope.

I wouldn’t have anticipated it at the time, but that image of the cat headbutting the car plays in my mind often when I’m online.

We are taking on something –head first – larger than us, and something we don’t quite understand yet.