Opening the Internet

I was looking at my designated entry for today and why, it may just be the toughest one yet. How do my varied internet experiences culminate in an understanding of openness? Without further ado, read on to find out.

1. Roleplaying

When I first discovered roleplaying, I thought it was a dream come true. I had always loved writing (though as you know from Monday’s entry I wasn’t always good at it), and the idea of being able to write with other people, taking the guise of an imaginary character, was a possibility I had never thought of. I was psyched, and eagerly got into the activity, joining roleplays of all different genres. I joined S*T next, and I wasn’t fussy about the roleplays I joined either. I took on fantasy, science fiction, romance, everything. I roleplayed with all kinds of people as long as they would have me. Even though I haven’t established my own niche, I’m quite sure that I’ve made a whole lot of friends in the process and learnt a lot about writing.

Not only that, I believe I did all my character building and leadership training on forums. I became a moderator and discovered a whole new world of member control, behind-the-scenes planning and problem solving in general. It was daunting to be a mod at first, but very soon I couldn’t imagine myself being anything but.

Lesson: Be open to new experiences.

Everybody has a natural fear of the unknown. The unknown presents challenges that we cannot prepare for beforehand, and may just expose all our weaknesses. However, it’s only through exposing our weaknesses that we can learn to be stronger, and there is a kind of exhilaration we get from trying and succeeding at something new. And if you don’t try, how do you know you won’t like it? I tried out roleplaying and moderating and it’s changed my life permanently.

2. YouTube

YouTube has become our new main way of viewing the world. When teachers of any subject are introducing a new topic, they typically take YouTube videos to prove their point, whether it is YouTube documentaries of DNA for Biology class, news footage for Sociology or Monty Python for Communications & New Media (my Interactive Media Design lecturer’s greatest love). YouTube videos have appeared about everything, from teaching you how to tie shoelaces to applying makeup to what life in another country is like. YouTube is where we find viral videos like the harlem shake or inspirational ones like Thai advertisements for Pantene shampoo. I’ve forgotten the specifics of that video but if you look up touching ads on YouTube you’re sure to find many that make you shed a tear.

Sometimes reading about the plight of hungry kids in Africa is simply not the same as watching it right in front of you. Learning about how lions hunt for their prey is never as majestic in writing as it is in action. YouTube enables you to access what you want, whenever you want it. But that’s only if you search for it.

Lesson: Be open to all kinds of people and things.

We now have an endless supply of resources at our disposal, and ignorance is no longer an excuse. The crux of the matter now is whether you’re open to seeing and accepting new ways of thinking radically different from your own, which is the theme of the digital generation. You’re going to be seeing videos on homosexuality, porn, violence, different dietary habits. You may have a clear idea of what is right and wrong, which is commendable, but it’s no longer acceptable to avoid watching certain stuff just because you don’t understand them and dislike them.

3. Facebook

It’s hard not to get attached to Facebook. It’s like your space in the boundless area of the internet, your haven where you keep your virtual home and put up news belonging to nobody but you. You write about your thoughts and feelings, put up photographs of where you’ve been and what you’ve done, and even communicate and play games with friends from the comfort of this safe personal zone. Facebook is like hiding in your blanket on your bed, and talking to people through that blanket. There is a sense of familiarity in everything amidst the confusion and impermanence of the World Wide Web. And in there, you can portray the image of yourself that you want others to see. You pick the best photographs, say only politically correct or clever things. Your friends and employers are impressed. You yourself are impressed.

Lesson: Be open to what you tell yourself.

Be careful not to get too impressed with this false identity you’ve made online, and forget the real you, the real person sitting behind the computer and hiding under the real blanket on the real bed. Sometimes the people we understand least are ourselves, simply because we don’t make the effort to know ourselves. We think we know loads about ourselves, and envelop ourselves in the delusion of what we think we are.

4. League of Legends

There is universal debate about League of Legends and DotA that I get quite confused about. On the one hand, I hear that LoL is a n00b version of DotA that only n00bs play, and on the other hand I hear that LoL has a steep learning curve for newcomers. I suppose I can only conclude that LoL is hard for beginners, and DotA is exceptionally hard. In any case, I’m not sure if it’s just me, but the first foray into an action multiplayer game is bound to end in sore utter defeat. I don’t know which keys to press, or what to do when I’m in danger, or even what my powers are. It takes plenty of practice to become the pro that earns gawks and applause in LAN gaming centres (not that anybody’s ever bothered with anybody else in those places). And it’s just as Thomas Edison says, it takes 99 failures before that 1 success.

Lesson: Be open to continuous learning and making mistakes.

Face it, we still make mistakes even when we’re 70 years old. We don’t really grow up to become more perfect, but rather, we grow up learning that we’re imperfect. There’s always more that we don’t know and more mistakes that we can make, but rather than looking at it this way, think about it. If there’s nothing left to learn and no mistakes left to make, what’s the point of doing anything any longer? It’s like brushing our teeth. We get so good at it that we hardly notice ourselves doing it. What’s the fun of life if it’s all about that?

So don’t be frightened of going out on a limb and messing things up. You learn and improve and “level up”. And I know for a fact that most players absolutely hate the level cap, which can only mean perfection isn’t something to envy at all.

5. NUS Confessions

I don’t know how this sprouted up, but some anonymous person set up an anonymous channel for NUS students to anonymously voice their thoughts. It was supposed to be themed around Valentine’s Day, but it stretched on well beyond that, with nameless and blameless people talking about their sick miserable lives, or how they’d love to hump that cute girl they saw at the bus-stop, or why pupils of a certain faculty are simply abominable and shouldn’t be allowed to share their facilities. It became like a virtual bulletin board where everyone could go up and tack notes on. It can be amazing what anonymity does to you. Otherwise ordinary, placid people could rant and rave, using imaginative daring vocabulary, about their truthful thoughts and opinions. It was a pleasure to read for many people, to see what NUS students could get up to, and how immature some of them could be.

Lesson: Be open and aboveboard.

NUS Confessions may have its disadvantages, but it sure became a popular fad. There were things like SMU Confessions as well, and then junior colleges and other institutions took to it with TJC Confessions, etcetera. What youngsters liked about the medium was that they could write about what they wanted without fear of getting caught, and also earn respect from fellow internet users who were from the same school. It had the advantages of glory without the drawbacks of facing the consequences.

But why can people only be frank when shielded by a veil of anonymity? One definition of openness is in frankness and sincerity, which the internet has not helped in promulgating. We should be responsible for our words and actions, rather than hide behind secrecy and darkness.

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