The Human Side of the Internet

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by Kevin Schaefer |

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“The internet is a well of humanity if you dig past the surface of it.”

Comedian, actor, and filmmaker Bo Burnham said this in 2019 during a writers panel hosted by The Hollywood Reporter. Burnham got his start making YouTube videos in the early 2000s, back when the concept of a YouTube sensation was a new phenomenon. His online platform eventually paved the way for his standup career, music, acting roles, and directorial debut with the 2018 film “Eighth Grade.”

Burnham’s versatility as an artist is just one example of the good that can stem from the internet. Too often, we demonize this and many other technologies.

At its worst, the internet is a vehicle for scammers, bullies, predators, and corporate overlords to wreak havoc upon humanity. The 2020 Netflix documentary “The Social Dilemma” gives an overview of the horrific ways social media can be used to control people’s thoughts and emotions, particularly youth. There’s no denying that many online platforms suck our time and energy, and an addiction to them can have detrimental effects on our mental and emotional health.

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Raised by the Internet

Yet, once you dig past the surface of celebrity gossip, political polarization, and cat videos (sorry, cat lovers), there is an abundance of humanity and stories waiting to be discovered. A simple Google search can lead literary enthusiasts to find essays that were written more than a century ago. YouTube, SoundCloud, and Spotify give indie musicians with small followings the ability to share their art with the world. And despite the stigmas of online dating, I know plenty of couples in healthy relationships who met through one of the many apps out there.

For me, I wouldn’t be where I am today without the internet. Technically, the origins of my online writing career date back to my senior year of high school when I started a movie blog. It’s probably taking up cyberspace somewhere, given that I haven’t logged on to it in years and have no idea what the password is for the email I used for it. I could search for it, but reading those reviews and “essays” would be as embarrassing as reading Facebook status updates I wrote as a teenager.

Still, that amateur display of online wordplay sparked my interest in blogging and journalism. I became actively involved with my university’s student newspaper, freelanced for other publications and entertainment sites, and eventually wound up here. It goes without saying that this site and the company I work for wouldn’t exist without the power and global reach of the internet.

Beyond utilizing the internet as a tool for work, I and countless others in the SMA community use it to connect with each other. Social media provides disabled people on opposite ends of the country, or even the world, opportunities to form relationships that are just as authentic as the ones we have with people we see in person. We don’t have to worry about inaccessible spaces or transportation issues when we DM one another or comment on Instagram stories. To say that online relationships are less meaningful is not only an outdated mindset but one that’s rooted in ableism.

Toward the end of last year, I found myself in a bit of a creative funk. I knew I needed a new outlet to fuel my spirit and distract myself from the chaotic state of the world. I pitched a podcast idea to my friend Harrison, who manages my go-to comic shop. With a little planning, a catchy title, and a general premise, we went for it. Now, 17 episodes in, we’ve talked with more than a dozen comic book creators and enthusiasts, discussed books we love, and encountered myriad technical difficulties.

We’ve recorded every episode from home on our laptops.

Like almost everything in existence, the internet has its pros and cons. I certainly believe that we need to unplug from our online lives often and engage with our physical surroundings. However, to view the modern digital age through a purely cynical lens is a slap in the face to many of us. Behind every screen and every major online platform, there’s a human ready to share their story.

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Note: SMA News Today is strictly a news and information website about the disease. It does not provide medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. This content is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health provider with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition. Never disregard professional medical advice or delay in seeking it because of something you have read on this website. The opinions expressed in this column are not those of SMA News Today, or its parent company, BioNews, and are intended to spark discussion about issues pertaining to spinal muscular atrophy.

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