Ollie's Modern Life

A little knowledge is a dangerous thing for Ollie Peart, who this month finds a modern day Babylon

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We’re in the middle of lockdown 2.0 and this time around I have decided to do something I have always wanted. Learn a language. 

I remember the first time I went to France knowing only ‘s’il vous plaît’ and ‘merci beaucoup’ and the look of utter disdain I would get from locals when they realised I hadn’t even bothered learning ‘I would like’ or ‘can I get the bill please’. A bit harsh maybe, I was only eight at the time, but still, since that moment I have always wanted to learn French.

So what better opportunity than now. I would have started during the first lockdown but I spent most of that stuffing my face with crisps and binge watching Netflix. Now is the time for me to cram in some serious French learning, and within a day or so of doing so, I realised something amazing, that we all know, but that sometimes gets forgotten in all the noise. 

The Internet is FUCKING INCREDIBLE.

It sounds obvious doesn’t it? Billions of connected devices all over the world giving users access to infinite information at the click of a button. For example, I have no idea what the tallest building in Australia is... now I do, about 10 seconds later (it’s the Q1 tower in surfers paradise if you were wondering). I didn’t know something, and now I do. See, FUCKING INCREDIBLE.

In starting to learn French I was literally dumbstruck at the colossal resource available to me. I can instantly translate any word I want to know and use free flashcard software to help me learn it. If I want books to help me further I can have them delivered to my door the next day. I can explore Paris, Lyon, Marseille - if I really want to I can randomly click on a map of France and check out Château-Chinon, a place I have never heard of but that I now know is 9°C with patchy cloud and has a population of 627 people according to the 2006 census. 

I can fully immerse myself in a culture that isn’t my own to help me understand it better and get a better grasp on the language; listen to their radio stations, watch their TV channels and read their newspapers. I can do all of this without moving my big fat ass in anyway at all, enriching my knowledge, growing my skills and having fun at the same time, and if I wanted to, I could do the same with almost any country, language or topic in the world.

So then, WHAT THE FUCK HAPPENED? Why has the vitriolic, toxic, fraudulent shite become the internet we talk about the most? Twitter has a ‘trending’ function for which the most part is people asking why something is trending, making it trend even more - ‘don’t know why Bill Murray is trending but he’s great!’ dickheads. Facebook is a data mining service and news sites of all persuasions are clickbaity shit holes loaded with adverts for hand cream or whatever. We hear more about Gwyneth Paltrow sticking an egg up her foof than about the free resources to learn algebra (if you wanted to). And herein lies the problem, it’s free.

Free is wonderful, of course, because it makes it accessible to everyone, myself included, but the flipside of this ideal is that companies need to make money somehow, and the easiest way to do that is to sell you. They hook you in with some shitty promise of being more ‘social’, giving you friends and likes, then box you up and sell your information to the highest bidder. 


Companies need to make money somehow, and the easiest way to do that is to sell you

Because we’re drawn to sites like these, news organisations flock to the platforms typing up ever more hyperbolic headlines with the hope of dragging you to see the ads they’ve plastered everywhere, and anything good online, gets lost. 

I know what you’re thinking though, if it wasn’t free then no one would pay for it. That’s not true. The only thing you wouldn’t pay for, is shit. You wouldn’t pay to join Instagram would you? You wouldn’t pay to post on Twitter. It’s worthless. But you might pay for, I dunno, a language course, maths tuition or to have access to independently funded quality journalism. 

Arguably this would shut the internet off for a lot of people. It would simply become unaffordable. But there must be a way to tackle that. Libraries became the way for everyone to have access to books, something similar needs to happen in the digital age. 

There is a place for shit online, in the same way there is a place for a dirty kebab or ‘homes under the hammer’, but the price we are paying for the way things are at the moment is a literal threat to democracy. We’ve seen it. Misinformation can spread like wildfire because it’s free, unregulated and everywhere.

Maybe it’s too late to change it. Maybe the internet is just too big a beast for the entire ecosystem to jump onboard to a different business model, but there’s hope. Netflix isn’t free, and what do you get? World beating cinematic entertainment. No ads, just stunning content that rightly gains global recognition. 

Imagine how rich the internet would be if it all ran on the same idea. For now though, just do this... next time you use Wikipedia, sling them a few quid.


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