Hayward: Living parallel lives in 21st century America through social media

Lauren Hayward

Virtual reality is here, and we call it Facebook.

Truly, Facebook is the juxtaposition of Orwell’s “1984” and a neoliberal’s dream, and it is the new frontier of the 21st century.

While a few hundred years ago Captain Cook was discovering Australia, and the world was discovering the virtues of electricity, we now venture into the 21st century: We will be discovering how to live simultaneous, parallel lives.

The Internet is a place for those in free western democracies to say anything that they want, to whomever they want, without censorship. It is a place where we can be exactly the type of person we would like to be in real life.

We are able to collect and personalize everything about our online persona; from the picture we post, to the music we download, to the people we follow. A persons Google search history may reveal more about them than you might ever learn.

But do not be fooled, people are watching: your significant other, your boss, the police, the government. It might sound like a crack-pot conspiracy theory, but with the advent of the Internet, there is nowhere you can hide.

And don’t try to get away with having no social media life either; that may just be more suspect. If you are a seeking a job, you can bet your latest status update that your future employer has googled you, Facebook-stalked you and checked out your Twitter feed. Young folk are bound to have something out there on the web. And if you have nothing, well, what exactly are you trying to hide?

In a very real and physical sense, Facebook and social media is ruining lives. Countless are the stories of online bullying that is relentless and reaching levels of ferociousness never before seen in school yards.

American divorce lawyers have said that they’ve seen an 80 percent increase in inappropriate Facebook interactions leading to or contributing to divorce. An Australian couple was served court orders on Facebook after lawyers made 11 attempts to serve them in traditional ways. Increasingly real-life events are being played out or impacted by social media.

We tend to see social media as a far away extension of our lives, generally harmless, just another facet of communication. However, I would suggest that it is the new, new world.

We have explorers and pioneers, we have bandits and criminals; as well as those in the old new world who don’t venture very far from what they know. It is a global exploration of a new virtual reality, a parallel world in which we are still working out our right and responsibilities.

Around the globe we seek the right to free speech on the Internet. This is most recently exemplified by the protests in the Middle East and Northern Africa, where protesters seeking democracy have fought for Internet freedom as much as they have fought for fair wages and job opportunities.

Conversely we detest when these freedoms are abused, and the Internet is used to proliferate attitudes and behaviors generally deemed to be evil, as with racist rhetoric inciting violence or child pornography.

We have an idea of the middle ground, of what is right and what is wrong, but we still don’t quite know the boundaries. Like looking over the horizon and imagining that the world is flat, we don’t know the full extent of the internet or what the future will bring.

We judge past societies by their rates of literacy, but it may come to be that future generations will judge our society by rates of computer and Internet literacy: where those with limited understanding or literacy indicate broader disadvantage, while high literacy rates are indicators of higher wealth, development and education.

So while we forge through this physical world, many people suffering persecution in the fight for virtual freedom, we must remember that whatever we publish on the Internet is an eternal mark by which our society will be judged, and by which you will be individually judged.

Be warned, our internet freedoms are exactly those that may lead to our demise.