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Bumming Favors Off Big Brother

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Now more than ever, it's apparent that the way we entertain ourselves shapes our lifestyles. With over two billion people in the world using the World Wide Web and Americans spending as much time surfing the web (usually for YouTube videos of cats flushing toilets) as watching TV, we have to ask ourselves how this shift is affecting our real lives. In the October 2010 New York Times article, "Little Brother is Watching," the author, Walter Kirn, compares the activities of the everyday denizens of the Internet to an army of tiny "big brothers" from Orwell's 1984 -- constantly spying, but in a much less malicious, even irrational -- way. I'd have to disagree with the assessment that we consumers stumble blindly around the world of the randomly-arranged web, and who knows -- maybe this new age of voyeurism isn't such a bad thing.

The Internet is organized by popularity. Google results, Facebook comments, 4chan posts, forum topics, torrent files, articles, even web pages themselves all are prioritized by the amount of traffic they receive and how frequently they've been "hit," and we notice. Our cursors are pretty much permanently pointed at the most popular pages we can peruse. In this way, the world of big brother is not too far off. Perhaps we are becoming an era of complacent thrill-seeking consumers. As Kirn wrote in his article,

"I was distracted by a story on my computer about a Google Street View camera that snapped pictures of a corpse lying on a bloody street in urban Brazil. I clicked on the link, unable to do otherwise, and up came the awful, disconcerting image. For a moment, I felt like a voyeur, spiritually dirtied by what I saw. A moment later I was checking the weather report and the status of my I.R.A."

In this world of constant contact and stimulation, we could easily become a race of voyeuristic sloths, tripping from link to link, getting off on violent displays caught by the cameras on victims' iPhones. Thankfully, though, we aren't there yet. There are some upsides to our world's Internet addiction and the rise of Internet giants like Facebook and Google. Aside from giving the Walter Kirns of the world likable antagonists for their news pieces, the power players of cyberspace are good for something. The most stunning example of the very effective, almost unstoppable power of the Internet to spread an idea has to be the chain of revolutions known collectively as the Arab Spring.

During the beginning days of the uprisings, Facebook and other social networking sites were invaluable to main players in the revolts. Wael Ghonim, himself a head officer at Google, set up Facebook support for the Egyptian revolution. I recently stumbled across what might be the most telling image on the net. In an article from xcity-magazine.com, there is a shot of the simple Facebook logo sprayed on a shipping container; a vagabond sits at the base of the car, probably thinking about his friends' latest status updates. Shockingly, Facebook has become not a tool of "little brother" to keep an unforgiving eye on the world, but a forum for expressing ideas more effectively and equally. And that's what "sticking it to the man" is all about -- taking communication to a massive level. Maybe entertainment is how we take the first step towards the more connected world of tomorrow and begin acting like real big brothers -- watching out for each other instead of just watching each other.