Who are you? What makes you, you?
Depending on who you consult, the answer varies.
what you eat?
what you wear?
what you know?
what you say?
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.
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.