4 Ways the Internet Is Creeping into the Real World
I'm not sure if you've noticed, but the Internet has been sort of popular for a while now. Still, for some reason, we tend to make a marked distinction between the "real world" and the strange pits that exist online. This may be because we're still struggling to fully embrace this life-altering technology that would have been totally impossible just a few decades ago. Maybe it's our stupid monkey brains or our fight-or-flight instinct that can't comprehend a reality that doesn't involve the option of physically punching creepy fuckers or climbing up a tree to escape them.
But whatever the reason, it's high time we get our collective shit together ... because the Internet is not going to wait for us to get our heads around its intricacies. It's far too busy wrapping its own tendrils around the real world and damn well taking over.
The Internet Celebrities Are Rising
In one way or another, Internet celebrities have been around ever since the Web advanced beyond clunky text and tic-tac-toe graphics. Even in the murky depths of ancient history (2008), minor online notables such as Leeroy Jenkins and Tron Guy were already participating in panel discussions about the nature of this new type of fame.
The fact that you're probably asking yourself "What the hell is a 'tronguy'?" is a testament to how well things worked out for them.
The media gleefully labeled this new fame breed micro-celebrities, and for the longest time you could only use the term "Internet famous" together with air quotes and an embarrassed chuckle, assuming you didn't want to get instinctively body tackled by everyone in the room. This was the Wild West of online fame, and it was extremely rare that someone was able to capitalize on their notoriety. There was the occasional Maddox, Tucker Max, and, of course, Seanbaby, but they were few and far between. Hell, even those guys only made it because they were ready to work their asses off.
Compare that situation to today, when Grumpy Cat -- an entity that has only been around since late 2012 -- has an estimated net worth of $1 million, and it's easy to see why modern online celebrity is a very different beast.
Namely, the kind of beast that scores lucrative endorsement deals with Nestle.
The advent of YouTube and social networking has made the entire online world a potential promotion machine, and Tardar Sauce is far from the only Publicly Recognized Internet Thing to capitalize on her memetic fame out in the real world. In fact, it looks like the value of online celebrity is increasing. Take PSY, a K-pop star who had practically zero chance of breaking out internationally, mainly due to the fact that he is a fucking K-pop star. But add one catchy tune, a goofy video, one Internet, stir -- and watch this relatively niche performer turn into a worldwide phenomenon and multimillionaire.
PSY is far from the only one to pull this off. We would probably never have heard of Lily Allen without Myspace. Kim Kardashian originally fled Z-list purgatory to become the ever-present TMZ fodderbeast we all know and ... know, largely thanks to the attention boost provided by the online hype around a certain provocative home recording. Kate Upton, in similarly bouncy but much more joyful fashion, also gained traction on the Internet. Lana Del Rey? Carly Rae Jepsen? Justin goddamn Bieber? Internet, Internet, motherfucking Internet.
These guys and Tila Tequila? Thanks a bunch, Interjerk.
It's not always necessary to leave the confines of the Internet, either. Online fame alone can be a decent source of notoriety and income, as Smosh, the Epic Rap Battles of History guys, and scores of other Internet entertainers have found. There are people (and animals) who earn money because they just happened to end up as memes, and even actual managers who represent them.
Of course, the best thing about Internet fame is that pretty much anyone has access to it if they really set their mind to it. Rumor has it there are entire comedy sites that are totally ready to pay you for writing articles for millions of people to see and enjoy.
The Joke Religions Are Getting Bolder
If you blinked on January 7, you might have missed one of the most potentially important news items of recent times: The first openly Pastafarian U.S. politician was elected into office and sworn in with all of his religion's regalia, which means that he took his oath while wearing a colander on his head.
In politics, it's important to establish your level of trustworthiness as early on as possible.
Why was this so important? Pastafarians, with their Flying Spaghetti Monster, are more or less just atheists messing around. They're basically the hipsters of religion -- why give them any extra attention?
The answer is simple: precedent.
In 1953, Tenzing Norgay and his sidekick Sir Edmund Hillary painstakingly reached the summit of Mount Everest. Once they proved it could be done, more and more people followed. Fast forward a few decades, and we're so busy covering the mountain in Snickers wrappers, poop, and ladders that there's a goddamn line. Much in the same fashion, our particular Pastafari politician was the first man to pull his stunt. He may be a mere councilman in Pomfret, New York -- hardly the equivalent of a seat in Congress. But now that he has opened the door, who knows what the world will be like in a decade or two?
You know, apart from the obvious.
Theological hot potatoes notwithstanding, religions come into being the same way most movements do: Someone or something gets the ball rolling, the idea gains traction, and the next thing you know, everyone is required to wear a spider-shaped top hat on a Wednesday. The Internet has already proved itself a viable channel of creating the base mythology necessary for a wacky religious movement, and the Pastafarians' increasing willingness to actively display their symbols out in the open just might be the next step in this trend. There are tons of Internet fringe religions out there, and I have a feeling it's just a matter of time before they emerge from the woodwork in a similar fashion.
There's a fair chance we'll eventually see a member of the Jedi Church in a political position, taking his oath while ceremonially waving a (hopefully fake) lightsaber around. People might claim to be Pastafarian or Jedi to make a point, or to be ironic, but how many years do you think it'll take before that line becomes blurry? Children will be born tomorrow in a world where a man wore a colander on his head when he took his oath; they won't understand irony, so that's already real life for them.
The Internet is currently our largest information and culture platform. If religions can survive it (which some suspect they might have a hard time doing), there's a very real chance the next Hot Stuff in the world of belief systems will emerge from the Web. All it takes is for the stars to be aligned just so, and the next world religion might be symbolized by a statue of Jeff Bridges wielding a Darth Maul double-saber and a plate of pasta puttanesca.
Which ... sounds pretty neat, actually.
Your Daily Life Is Slowly Sucked In
"Well, duh," you're probably thinking right now. "I'm sitting on the toilet wasting my office hours away, reading theories written by some Internet comedian. If I can't even poop without the Web, chances are I spend a good chunk of my time online. Good work figuring it out, genius. [Poooooop.]"
To which I promptly reply from the next stall, thoroughly creeping you out: "Not so fast! Hear me out."
I write all my stuff in your company bathroom, Kevin.
The Internet has always been lauded as the information superhighway and the future of pretty much everything ... in theory. In practice, there used to be a time -- not all that many years ago -- when you couldn't say you worked on the Internet without people immediately assuming you were a Nigerian prince. Identifying yourself as a member of an online community was even worse: "What, you're one of those weirdos who spend time on the Internet for fun? Leave your badge on my desk and get the hell out of my office! You're worse than the punks you're supposed to be arresting."
"Also, the precinct is confiscating all your Magic: The Gathering cards. The boys tell me your ramp deck is the shit."
Things have changed, and I think it's because the world has realized that this shit isn't just a fad. People have finally understood the need to take the Internet seriously, which has created a tsunami of "Holy shit, are computers cool now?" attitude adjustment. My theory is that the reason nerds have started finding themselves in all sorts of vogue in recent years is part of this phenomenon; we've started adapting to our new lifestyle by incorporating the formerly loathsome "good with computers" archetype as a focal cultural character instead of a wedgie target.
Although stock photography still proudly upholds the old ways.
With the stigma of online presence removed, it's now entirely OK to be associated with the Internet, both personally and professionally -- and holy shit have we jumped on the bandwagon. An international study by Cisco indicates that we already see Internet access as part of our basic needs, on par with fundamentals such as air, and water, and bacon. Worldwide Internet use is increasing all the time -- in Britain alone, the time spent online has doubled in just seven years.
And just like that, despite our stupid ape brains still occasionally insisting that this shit is stranger than a sackful of Martian poop samples, we've become way too busy enjoying the many social and professional delights of the Internet gravy train to notice.
Creepy Sci-Fi Megacorporations Are Taking Over
What does the term "corporation" bring to mind? Ominous supercompanies that lurk in the shadows and sneakily alter the genes in our corn crops? Food industry big names and their various dick moves? Steam-powered Victorian sweatshops where Snidely Whiplashian villain bosses force Oliver Twist and his friends to churn smartphones out into the uncaring world?
Ha, nope! Those were the megacorporations of yesteryear, or in the case of that last one, this weird dream I had after burrito night at Steve's Hobo Hut. Sure, Monsanto and its ilk are still very much monopolizing the shit out of their respective shits -- but there are new bad boys in town challenging them for the title of the official creepy company of our time and cultural climate. You know the ones I'm talking about: Facebook, Google, Apple, and the other big, flashy, gleefully omnipresent supercorporations that owe a large chunk of their power (and often their entire existence) to the Internet.
Their relationship is similar to that of genies and crappy lamps.
While many of these companies have a history of borderline supervillain antics, I wouldn't call them actually evil: They're just businesses, staffed with people, doing what businesses do. It's the way they're doing their thing that would make any 1980s or 1990s person release some fear piss. See, while it's certainly true that this new, Internet-bred generation of megacorporations has made sure we live in a totally badass, science fiction future, it's not this future:
It's this one:
Imagine what our age must look like from the viewpoint of a conveniently-out-of-a-time-machine-stepping kid from a couple of decades ago who grew up on RoboCop and The Terminator: Strangely named firms that made their name in suspicious-sounding "search engine" business own tons of robot companies and are actively developing ED-209 level monstrosities. Detroit is in ruins, flying robot planes stalk people on faraway battlefronts, there are several creepy-ass OCP-style corporations running around -- and every fucking tech company on Earth is apparently doing their level best to create their spin on Skynet.
That's right, old timers. Technically speaking, we're already living in the dystopian future all those movies we grew up on describe, and we haven't even really noticed, because you know what? Turns out it's actually pretty OK.
Well, at least as long as we have the Internet.
Pauli Poisuo thinks the Internet would be pretty swell if it wasn't for all the goblins. Follow him on Twitter.