Dear Candice at 15,
Hey, what’s up? Just wanted to check in and see if you were still brazenly penning moody poetry into a tattered black-and-white composition book. Years from now, your grandmother is going to still have that thing and hand it back to you when you’re about 21 or so. You’ll flip through it for a few minutes and groan over how dramatic of a teenager you were and toss it in the waste bin. You may have always felt you communicated best through written word but, let’s face it, some of those words should’ve been kept in your head.
You’re still using America Online, aren’t you? Yeah, I’m sure of it. Typing at a blinding speed and thinking that your version of the Internet is the best it will ever be. A tiny, silent community of everyone just observing and yet not meshing together fully. We had just become so entranced with having information at our fingertips and nobody really contemplated the full possibility of what that would mean for our futures. For you, back in the mid ’90s, the Internet didn’t mean a whole lot to you. The majority of its wealth rested behind the windows of your AOL account and Internet Explorer windows and you really had no reason to think it’d ever extend beyond that. You couldn’t reach out and touch strangers unless they were in your tiny little dial-up community and let me tell you, sweetheart, there is so much more.
As a writer now, I can tell you that you have experienced your fair share of conversation with the Internet at large. You’ve written about everything you’ve ever tasted, felt, smelled, and heard and you’ve done it with a song in your heart. You’re not the only one, though, because that’s what we’ve done by putting a computer in every home: we’ve given the world a voice. People share everything at an almost alarming rate and in that same tone, they will destroy just as much as they build. That Internet you know as a small, quiet place for socializing and making friends will become everything you know. It will be where you make your living, where you meet new people who will become best friends and lovers, and even reconnect you with your long-lost father.
Yeah, Candice. You’ll find him again. You won’t be happy about what you find, but you’ll find him.
You’re probably at this part and you’re excited, but I need you to be careful because it sounds so warm, crisp, and exciting. Tangling your fingers in beautiful glowing lights and sounds that mean fully embracing the possibility of such connection. We wanted that for the Internet but the second you open the flood gates, you stop having the potential to stop the tide. Potential turns into disaster because nobody can police free will and that, Candice, is what the Internet has become: Digital Free Will. Fully realized. Fully in bloom, gorgeous and volatile and ready to slap you right upon your precious pink mouth if you dare step out of line.
I’m telling you this because you are going to become a part of it.
By the time you reach my age, you will have interlocked all of the pieces in such a way that you are almost living in a symbiotic relationship with real life and a digital one. Your every move will become documented, not just by others, but by yourself and all without even realizing it. You’ll take stylized pictures of your food, pinpoint your every location, and release limited blurbs of consciousness into the public without a second thought. Remember when you used to ponder if anyone cared about these things? Remember when you wondered what it would feel like to get out of your head?
There’s no going back in now, baby.
What I said up there about the Internet and how everyone is here now, displaying their feelings, their day-to-day habits, and without any sort of filter, there’s no stopping it. The mob mentality that we studied so much in high school that fascinated you? It’s at an all-time high now. Remember when you studied emotional conditioning via the Stanford Prison Experiments? Think of the Internet as one huge prison experiment. In the span of 15 years, you have bounced back and forth between prisoner and guard more times than you can imagine and it’s nothing I’m proud of, but something I need you to be worried about constantly. We all have the potential to be hateful, cruel commentators on the world around us and we sometimes do it with such ease that it’s disgusting. We gladly swig the soda that we were told will keep us wide awake, we play our music on our cloud-streaming systems (yeah, no more CDs. Weird, right?) and have Internet wirelessly beamed into our computers. Why? Why do we have all of this beautiful technology? What do we do with it?
The majority of us are reckless with it, gnashing our teeth into anything we’ll feel an emotion for because we’ve become so desensitized over the width and scope of what we see before us. When you can read about, watch, or hear about literally any topic in the world, you start realizing that nothing is forbidden any longer. We are no longer restricted to the soft-skinned, dew-eyed body that we were raised with and there is something devastating about knowing you have that kind of power, Candice.
I write this because you will receive a rather angry, hateful comment on an article you wrote. It won’t hurt your feelings because you know better, but it will make you think about how far you’ve come, how far we’ve come, and just from what. The people, our generation, quickly built ourselves up to be cold and clipped and we embrace anything that is sweet, innocent, and darling because of how rare it is now. I need you to promise me that you won’t ever look at the world like that and that you will continue to write to the point of distraction. Even when the Internet starts building up its stone walls around you, begging to close you in and extinguish your voice amongst billions of small, angry ones, don’t stop. Don’t become part of the reckless thousands that boot up and log in just so they can destroy the light that others cast off in hopes of connection.
By the way, they released that Duke Nukem game you were hoping for. It sucked. I figured it was best to let you know now rather than deal with you being hopeful for the next decade. You’re welcome.
In closing, embrace the Internet as only you can — but be so careful about letting it embrace you back. You never do anything halfway, but you will gain and lose more relationships, friendly and/or otherwise, because of how murky the waters can be there. When you gain anonymity for free, it is usually others who pay the cost and you will witness that firsthand. Be good.
Candice at 31