How Can We Make The Internet A Better Place?

While the Internet has many good features, it is also a place filled with people behaving badly. How can we make it better?

The Internet is amazing. We carry in our pocket a portal to most of our species’ accumulated knowledge, as well as a way to communicate with people from around the world in real time.

However, there are times when the Internet is not a good place to be.

While social interaction might be good in theory, in many cases, online behavior can be shockingly negative. People can be insulting, dismissive, and just generally rude. Some share personal information like addresses, pictures, or videos not meant for public consumption. The comments section in online newspapers, message boards, and social media sites can be toxic.

There is also the threat of scammers, people looking for any opportunity to steal your money and/or identity, or to infect your computer with viruses. You have to be hyper-vigilant about what links you follow, in emails or on websites.

There are also programmed ‘bots that pretend to be individuals. These can be created and run by agents of foreign governments, who are looking to spread misinformation and sow distrust and division in everyday life.

On top of that, there are companies that collect our personal information, which then can be sold to someone who might use it to try and manipulate us.

With all of these bad actors, the Internet can provide an unpleasant experience.

However, there are some places on the web that aren’t like this. Those sites provide a much better overall experience, and might even fulfill some of the potential for positive change that the Internet offers.

How might we make more places like this? Can we curb the trolls and scammers, and encourage collaboration and creativity? How can we make the Internet a better place?

Related questions: How can you be more responsible online? Why does social media often bring out the worst in us? How can we encourage meaningful conversation?

How Can Humans Become More Humane?

Human history is filled with aggression, violence, betrayal, greed, and other negative acts. How can we become more humane?

While there are plenty of instances of people treating each other with grace and dignity, the opposite is alarmingly common. And all too often, the underlying cause is suspicion and mistrust of the other.

It is easy to understand bad behavior when life and death is on the line. If my family is going to starve, I might steal your food to feed them. That may not be right, but it makes sense.

However, what do we make of more abstract differences? Why do we attack or enslave someone else because their skin color is different from ours? Or they pray to a different god? Or they speak a different language?

There may be an evolutionary cause to our behavior. A person who mistrusted others in different tribal groups may have been more likely to survive into adulthood and have offspring. We may be hardwired that way.

Now however, that same behavior is counterproductive at best, and actively destructive at worst. We can see divisions growing between groups for the simplest of reasons. People are insulted and attacked online, which ruins the experience for everyone. Misogyny, homophobia, racism all run rampant in today’s society.

Is there any way we can improve things? Can we train ourselves to treat others with respect and compassion, even if we don’t know them? Can we overcome our baser instincts and be more humane? On a personal level, what do you do if you suspect you might be succumbing to your darker nature?

Related questions: How can we encourage meaningful conversation? Why do we hate? How can you love someone who does something you hate? Why does social media often bring out the worst in us?

What Stories Are Most Important To You?

Throughout our lives, we are constantly surround by stories of one kind or another. Which ones matter most to you?

Stories come in many different kinds. Some are personal, some are entertainment, and some are societal.

For example of a personal story, we have the those we tell ourselves about ourselves. You might, for example, tell everyone, including yourself, that you are always on time. As a result, you become known as the punctual one of your group. Or you always have the latest gadget, or maybe the cleanest house.

Whatever you tell yourself (and carry through on) you can manifest and make real. You define yourself through the stories you tell about yourself.

We also have access to more entertainment options than ever before. From movies to TV shows, from video games to novels, from sports to social media, we have a never-ending stream of tales told by all kinds of people. They might shock you, make you laugh, tug at your heartstrings, or open your eyes to other points of view.

Finally, we come to societal stories. These are things we tell each other that help us function in tandem. We cooperate because we hear a story and believe it.

For example, why do you pay your taxes? Perhaps you believe the story that our pooled resources makes our community stronger and benefits everyone. Or maybe you just believe the story that you will face a penalty if you don’t.

There are many stories, in all aspects of your life. Which ones mean the most to you? Are there some you never question? Might there be a benefit, or a penalty, to doing so?

Related questions: What are the benefits of fiction? Where do shared ideas exist? What makes a community? What makes you you?

What Is The Value Of Boredom?

Most of us will go to great lengths to avoid boredom for even a moment. But is there a benefit to being bored?

Let’s face it, it is no fun to be bored. In our culture that is so focused on being productive, having down time when you are not doing anything can seem like a colossal waste of time.

Technology to the rescue! With our smartphones, while waiting in line, for example, you can check your email, or scroll through your social media feed. Of course, you don’t have to be technologically savvy to avoid boredom. You can just as easily carry a book with you wherever you go.

While smartphones don’t have a monopoly on avoiding boredom, they make it very easy. The entire internet is available with the touch of a button. That’s never been true in human history before, and it shouldn’t be ignored. If we don’t want to be alone with our own thoughts, we don’t have to be.

However, is there actually an upside to boredom? Even though it feels unproductive and almost painful at times, could there be a benefit in being alone with your own thoughts?

It certainly seems possible. Many people find value in meditation, to improve mental health among other benefits. For some, meditation is actively doing nothing. No phone, no speaking. No activity, other than breathing. The goal is to be comfortable with doing nothing.

In addition, creativity is enhanced through boredom. Mothers everywhere know that children, when bored, find creative ways to entertain themselves.

What other positives might there be to being bored? Should we actively seek out boredom, at least once and awhile?

Related questions: When is it useful to fail? What is the value of inefficiency? Are we too busy? What do you think about when out for a walk?

What Technology Is A Force For Good?

Much of the conversation surrounding emerging or existing technologies often focuses on worst-case uses. But what are some of the ways technology can be used for improving the future?

There have been many warnings surrounding Artificial Intelligence, or A.I. From job replacement, to increased potential for spreading misinformation, to accusations of plagiarism or even intellectual laziness, the dangers are many. Warning bells have come from a variety of different sources, and some predictions are quite bleak, indeed.

Existing technologies can also have negative consequences.

The Internet has only been in use for a few decades, but some blame it for the increased polarization throughout the world. Misinformation and propaganda seem to spread more quickly than facts and logic. Social media platforms keep us in our own echo chambers. It is easier to find and target people for scams, and conspiracy theories abound. It is a far cry from the educational potential the Internet initially had.

In fact, you can go all the way back to the start of the industrial revolution to see the seeds of our current climate crisis. The burning of fossil fuels made production and distribution cheap and easy, but a warming planet is an unintended side effect.

These are all examples of technology introducing or exacerbating problems. However, there is no doubt that our world has used our growing mechanical know-how for good occasionally. Can you think of some examples of positive outcomes that come from science and engineering advances? And in what ways might the emerging technologies transform our world for the better?

Related questions: What role does technology play in your life? Is technology neutral? What skills have you lost due to technology? Why does social media often bring out the worst in us?