On the Great Societal Shift of the Last Decade

Around 2006, video streaming site YouTube launched and changed the world forever. There had been sites like it before – New Grounds comes to mind – but never before had a website had such a clean, user friendly layout. They branded their catchphrase “Broadcast Yourself”, and people followed suit. Internet videos were easier to collect and stream on the platform, and true relics of the Information Era were born. Star Wars kid, Tay Zonday’s Chocolate Rain, the toddler and his baby brother who became known for their signature line, “Charlie, you bit me!”

I remember being in seventh grade and peering over at my fellow peers as they gathered around one of the student’s computer screens. We were given laptops in middle and high school, as a means of melding our young selves with the ever evolving rise of technology, and it wasn’t unusual to share some commentary about a new website or online game that wasn’t blocked on the network. Four other students gathered around, laughing hysterically and performing some dance. It was during homeroom, so were free to get up and socialize, and as they weren’t the popular kids whom intimidated me greatly (they knew how to be, how to act; I was clueless in talking to people, except those whom were outcasts, like myself, who rarely shunned anyone) I walked over to see what the fuss was about.

On screen, an overweight guy with cheap Sony over-the-ear headphones lip synced to some foreign song. It was the Numa Numa Guy, as he would later affectionately be nicknamed, pumping his arms in the air. I was dumbfounded and in awe. I had stalked the annals of the internet for years at that point, mostly sticking to Nick.com and CartoonNetwork.com’s flash games and even Atom Films’ original shorts such as Angry Kid and Happy Tree Friends. I thought that I had seen everything but this was new. It was joyous, and exciting. The guy shamelessly put himself out there, having a blast while singing a song that I’m not sure even he knew the meaning of then. I went home and tried finding the video myself, but was out of luck until months later, in 2007, when my best friend Charlie linked to a video over AOL Instant Messenger that showed a guy holding a pizza and attempting to jaywalk before being brutally hit by a car. These days I’d rightfully know it to be staged, but back then there was no in depth discussion over truth, breaking down frames of a video to look for cuts or blemishes like there is today. It was real, in my eyes, and somehow that made it funnier. I laughed until I cried, hitting the replay button so much that my index finger started to ache.

Oh, and I found the Numa Numa Guy’s video, too. It didn’t take long, to my surprise, as it was one of the most watched videos on the site. I sank my teeth into this white canvas of a site, and began to eat up as much content as I could, admiring the works of TheHill88 with her adorable Australian accent, ChooseYourOwnTube, the Nesquik video contest entries (which I entered, but lost), the Parkour Ninja, and so many AMV’s of Naruto that I would sometimes rewatch them late into the morning hours on weekend nights on my dad’s old laptop that he gave me after purchasing a sleek and sexy 2008 model white Macbook pro for work.

Later down the road I would discover the formative rock bands that came around just as my teenage depression kicked in – Breaking Benjamin, Three Days Grace, Linkin Park, and Rise Against, bands I still owe much of my career (and perhaps life) to now. I would download many of their albums using Limewire, occasionally pirating R-rated films like South Park: Bigger, Longer and Uncut, Jackass, and the CKY series. And yes, there was porn. Lots, and lots of pornography. I grew up with the internet, with sites like YouTube, Myspace, Facebook, Atoms Films, Addicting Games, and more. I filled my iPod Nano (and eventually my iPod Nano with video capability – you really learn to appreciate watching Netflix on your phone when you started out watching episodes of television on a literal two inch screen) with music, software, and episodes of random television shows.

Though they were the most chaotic, lonely and dark days of my life, I found refuge on the internet, browsing in the kitchen on my laptop, or sneakily late at night using my Sony PSP. The internet as it had become wasn’t the poster of communication that was talked up in the early 90’s – it evolved beyond the simplicity of email and sketchy chatroooms. Philip Defranco, Jacksfilms, Shane Dawson, JennaMarbles and more were in their young twenties and putting out some of the most high quality and insightful commentary and sketches that you would never find on television. They were real young adults, who understood how I and others around their ages felt. Their commentary were uncensored, and unedited. Vlogs were their way of communicating with faceless fan bases who related to them, and found refuge in their works.

It was the beginning of something new, something different. A paradigm shift. But that shift would not fully arrive until the next decade, when the internet evolved from middle school kids sharing funny videos over an instant messenger client and posting them like pieces of flair to their personalized MySpace pages. The change would be exponential, and would forever reshape our understanding of the human race.

***

One of the most influential conversations of my college career occurred on a late Autumn night in 2012. I was with my childhood best friend, Charlie, and our buddy Alex. We were decompressing after a night of chaos played out downstairs in the frat house we frequented. I won’t go into details for the sake of privacy, but one of our friends had a meltdown and it quite honestly scared the hell out of all us. I left, taking a walk to clear my head before returning, where I then sat down with Charlie and Alex. We discussed the incident, and used it as a spring board to launch into a conversation about the upcoming Mayan “end of the world” prophecy.

Alex spoke at length about it, sharing his belief that the world wasn’t going to end but rather, he said, a paradigm shift would occur that would ripple through human consciousness. I was wanderlust, and ate up every word. Charlie chimed in, and agreed. I debated with them, and asked them to dissect what this shift would be. We came up with more speculation than answers. I didn’t notice the world change all that much on the night of the shift, or in the days after. To be honest, I was disappointed.

But it was coming. It would take a few years, but fundamentally something had changed, and we’ve bared witness to it in the last few years.

We, as humans, are not biologically capable of dealing with our modern society. People are developing mental illnesses such as depression at a higher rate than in decades past, and it is not due to overpopulation, nor is it from the pharmaceutical companies pushing doctors towards diagnoses.

At this stage in human evolution we are more connected on a global scale than literally any other point in recorded history. Perhaps, ever. Shouldn’t we be more sympathetic and understanding, and not define “my piece of dirt” as better than yours? It’s an idealistic thought, but not possible. Dunbar’s Number states that humans innately can only hold connections with around 150 people in our brains. Any more, and we suddenly feel ambivalence towards the other millions because we are tribal, and our primitive brains don’t need to hold that much information. We can only hold onto so many people and so much information before we grow tired, restless, and of course, ambivalent.

In at least the United States major cities are hubs of social prosperity. Yet they are the most crime ridden, polluted, chaotic, and depressed in the country. Why? Because there are too many people crammed into small areas, all trying to make a living. In modern society we build our own tribes in the forms of families, friends, and co-workers. Hundreds of years ago, however, you didn’t choose your tribe. They were already picked out for you, in the villages and small cities where you could reside. Your world was your village, or town. When someone was condemned for a crime, they were surrounded by their peers and ostracized or punished. If the criminal decided to venture away, they could most likely start anew somewhere else and none of their new peers would be the wiser.

Here’s my point. With social media becoming a prominent force in political, social, and psychological discussion, I believe that there’s a perspective that many haven’t seen – that the globe is your village, and your peers are (accounting for those without internet in third world countries) about three billion in counting, with more joining every day. An over saturation of voices, opinions, and personalities is not easy for the mind to digest, and often leaves individuals wondering, “What the fuck am I supposed to do, or think? What is ethical, and which opinion should I subscribe to?”

If you do or say something that doesn’t align with the ideal, utopian opinion base – while there are good intentions behind it – you are publicly shamed and shunned, which can lead to drastic and terrifying real world implications in relationships, employment, and other social areas. Trying to look from the outside inward its not hard to see that the village we have built, with all of its freedom, is also isolating and sometimes cruel. Ingesting so much information and having such a hot iron close to us is not healthy, but we do have the chance to fix our growing isolation.

We are still in the infantile stages of the internet. None of us were taught how to live online. We were taught how people before the Internet Age lived, like our parents and grandparents, but already the gap in relating the past to the present is wider than we might realize. If we can all agree that our worldwide village needs growth, and that going offline is sometimes better than staying on (good luck with cell phones, but that’s for another post), we could see improvement in the general, first world human condition.

But hey, that’s just my opinion.

 

 

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