“History will be kind to me for I intend to write it.” -Winston Churchill

global connections

Who are you? What makes you, you?

Depending on who you consult, the answer varies.
Are you:
what you eat?
what you wear?
what you know?
what you say?
your thoughts?
your actions?
the face you show the world?
what other people think you are?
what you think you are?
what you love?
who you love?

All are interesting hypotheses, all imbued with shades of truth. Yet they all oversimplify the matter. An individual is an amalgam of hard wiring and experience, a singular synthesis of humanity.

For the first time in history, Churchill and those like him aren’t the only ones with the power to write their own autobiographies. Philosophers throughout time have reiterated again and again that history is a fable written by the victors because their words were the only ones recorded. This fundamental idea that history is only ‘based on a true story’ rings slightly less true in an age when so much of the world can log onto an interconnected internet and share their story and point of view via a thousand different social media platforms. Regardless of the platform one uses, if you can log on, you can connect.

There are problems with our current system. Corporations are footing the bill for content and that means advertising is in charge of the vast majority of those platforms. But crowdfunding, freemium services, and user-supported media are slowly eating away at the need for every website to ‘sell out’ just to keep the lights on. In the United States, net neutrality is in jeopardy even though the people have spoken and 99% support neutrality. The reason for the overwhelming support is clear – no one wants their voice tamped down by the powers that be.

Internet access is considered so important in today’s society that the United Nations declared it a human right, but the number of people still without a platform to tell their stories is surprisingly high. More than 60% of the world’s population does not have any access to the internet. The graphic below shows the percentage of citizens that are internet users in each country.

internet users percentage
Source: International Telecommunication Union

Was the United Nations right, should internet access be a human rights issue? I do not even hesitate to answer yes. It is easy to dismiss the importance of something overrun with angry comment sections and pictures of cats, but the internet is much more than that. It is a bastion of knowledge, a refuge for the lonely, an unending source of entertainment. It is a global market, the local coffeehouse to all who enter. It does not replace the hangouts we haunted before Google came around, but it does do something they can’t – it sends our lives, our stories, our truths to all we seek to share them with and then saves it all for posterity.

I won’t deny that there are some creepy angles to the way our information is used by the websites we entrust it to. The rules and regulations of our virtual lives must be constantly revisited and updated. Still, saving our present for the future to see may be the greatest gift this generation gives to humanity.

Think for a moment about a historical figure, anyone. Go on, I’ll wait.
Got it? Good.
Now consider what you have recalled. What did they look like? What were their personality traits?
Do you feel like you have a good handle on who they were?
If you’ve researched this historical figure before perhaps you can tell me what they are famous for; perhaps even what they ate and wore, who and what they loved. But unless they wrote down their own histories as Churchill planned, it’s near impossible to imagine what someone from the past was really like.

Anyone who has looked through photographs from the 1800s has probably thought that the people in the pictures lived very serious, stately lives. Even the kids look solemn:

Just taking a glance makes it easy to think of these children as much different than ourselves as kids. But these children are not stern robots of the past. They laughed, ran, played, and cried just like the rest of us. The way we study history too often leads us to view its figures as one-dimensional caricatures. But what happens when we catch a candid glimpse?

Not so hard to imagine them as living, breathing, emotive human beings now is it?

“The most effective way to destroy people is to deny and obliterate their own understanding of their history.”
― George Orwell

The victors are not the only ones with voices anymore, but we still don’t have a complete compendium of human experience. Everyone has a right to be heard, to offer their history as they understand it. In order to stop seeing other human beings as more than merely ‘other’, we must see their smiles and their tears. We must hear their stories. Mark Twain posited that history does not repeat, it rhymes. If the poetic verses of the future are to be written in tones of equality, we must give everyone a pen.

The internet may contain a distressing amount of cruelty, but it has an impressive aggregate of individuals spreading compassion with every virtual interaction. The world wide web does not have to be a zero-sum game. It can change the world for the better, teaching us more about ourselves and introducing us to everyone else, if only we use it that way.

10 thoughts on ““History will be kind to me for I intend to write it.” -Winston Churchill

  1. There she is!

    Well, you know where I stand on social media (in that it seems to stand squarely on me). But the blogger in me persists, stubbornly. Even though with each post I lose a little of the confidence I might have had in that “voice” it supposedly gives me, I still can’t seem to stop, I guess in the hopes that someone somewhere might hear and be uplifted just a little. And I am uplifted and encouraged by (most of) what I read and the people I “connect with,” whatever that means.

    But I still say, for me at least, the media society rings just a little too hollow just a little too often. Anonymity brings safety, but it also cuts off relationship, which is defined by vulnerability and the possibility of being hurt. If I don’t know a person’s name, then I don’t know the person, not really. Many cultures believe that until a person has a name, that person isn’t really a person; selfhood resides in the name. In some ways, I agree. I have come across so many people while blogging with whom I feel I might really connect, only to discover that block, that shield, erected between myself and their selves, and it feels wrong. Granted, not everyone out there is trustworthy, but some of us are. But I guess we all fall on the shoulders of the least common denominator.

    And that’s me, the frustrated friend. I want to love social media, and believe in it, but it just keeps falling flat…

    (Present company excluded, of course, Madalyn…) :0)

    1. Feel free to blame visiting family, fiction writing, and a new school year for my absence. Just so long as you don’t blame me. 😉

      I must admit that Facebook and Twitter are not really what I had in mind writing this. I do think there would be something to seeing feeds from people in developing countries. I imagine it would reframe our lives in a way similar to this: http://youtu.be/fxyhfiCO_XQ

      The most popular social media sites are a lot of advertising and not much else. I recently cut my friend list down to a measly 47, losing everyone that I didn’t feel a genuine connection to. They are the ones that keep me there anyway and my experience has not changed in any noticeable fashion. (Besides missing you there.) I did the same thing here on WordPress and am planning an overhaul of my Twitter. The connections I cherish most are the ones where I get to know the person across a variety of platforms, especially sites where content matters above all else.

      I take your point about it ringing hollow so often and the conflicted nature of anonymity. Still, I think that our capacity for empathy can only expand if we use the internet to listen. I can enjoy group settings on the web, but listening to the experiences of single voices is what keeps me coming back. I’m curious to know how your perception of me changed in the transition from Muggle to Madalyn.

      In the end, I want to rise to the possibilities of the highest common denominator. If enough of us do it, we can raise the entirety up a few notches. I hope. 🙂

      1. I realized that I never answered your question, about the the difference between knowing you as a pseudonym and knowing you as you. (Between knowing you as a pair of winged shoes, and knowing you as a face with a name.) But I think that answers the question: Now I know you as you, and there is a moment of trust in there somewhere that to me changes everything. I don’t want to just share my thoughts with people; I want to share my self. And my self has a face, some days more ragged than others (which is part of my self, as well)…

  2. The idea of the Internet is simple: free (almost) exchange of ideas and information. This one seemingly simple idea amplifies all the ideas and thoughts and actions which depend upon that exchange. Imagine crowd funding something in 1941 – they called it a bake sale. Today companies are born overnight, fully funded. The Internet does not shape society or merely expose its constituent parts, it amplifies them, spreads them farther than they would have gone otherwise.

    We as humans tend to dampen the spread of bad things but help spread good stuff. While the Internet enables some folk to do bad things it amplifies the ability of others to do good. This amplification is a kind of magnifying glass on the general inate moral stability of the human creature.

      1. I grew to adulthood with no Internet. I have seen what it has done and what it can do. I have no doubt as to the goodness of it, nor shall I ever be amazed at the cruelty or kindnesses of humanity. I have seen them amplified in front of my own eyes, without colored lenses to taint the understanding of it. Humans are mostly good and given the opportunity they will push us forward in our understanding and abilities. The Internet gives a lot of humanity that opportunity.

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