Our Online World

By Abel Merawi

Online-worldMay 12, 2020 (Ezega.com) -- It took only a few decades to gain dominance, but the change was dramatic. I am talking about the online world and the technologies that made it possible. A simple comparison of life before and after the 21st century shows the stark difference. In the past, watching a movie, listening to your favorite songs, or accessing a book was a real task. Now, you can simply download and share it. Learning was also hard when your source of information is only the teacher or the library. Doing research or an assignment was demanding since information is limited. The online world solved such problems just by making everything available.

The virtual world provides users with a bigger space. But depending on our practice, it can lead to freedom or bondage. The benefit or harm of the online world can depend on whether you know what you want. If you know what you want, you can find it online. But if you ask Google ‘how should I spend my day?’, then you will be lost in the endless virtual reality. Perhaps, looking at the type of videos most watched on YouTube and the people who profit from it will put things in perspective.

The top 10 popular types of YouTube videos concentrate on products, education, comedy, challenge, and games. The product-related videos are ‘Unboxing Videos’ that show the details of a product and ‘Product Review Videos’ that show people using and analyzing products. These can be useful for customers, but they are more useful for the producers as promotions. Educational videos being one of the tops is nice, but some of the things under this category are hard to call education. For instance, watching a video on how to make explosives is difficult to call educational! Comedy, challenge, and game videos are all entertainment videos. But currently, the obsession with fun makes me curious because it seems like an escape from reality. Personally, the challenge videos are making people dumber because they are simple child game an adult shouldn’t bother watching or doing! Consider your own online experience and see if you are using your time effectively.

Thanks to our online habits, we are making those who represent the worst of our species-rich. Forbes has reported the top 10 highest-paid YouTubers, and I’ll try to introduce them briefly. Four of the highly paid are gamers who provide commentary and tricks on how to play video games. Another one is from Sweden, who is known for his offensive commentaries on sensitive issues. Then, there is a makeup artist and talk show hosts who taste odd food combinations! The third spot is held by a 5-year-old girl born with cerebral palsy, but who now works with toy and food brands. The second spot is held by a five-man sports crew who performs tricks and stunts. The highest-paid YouTuber is an 8-year-old kid who earned $26 million in 2019. According to Forbes, this kid has his own TV shows, and toys and clotheslines. I just pose one question with this fact: when you read this information, did you feel the value of hard work or the silliness of the online world or something else?  

Let us now consider the bigger picture and examine the implications of the online world. In life, we are guided by the things we hold to be true. In the past, the truth was formed from philosophical and religious thoughts. But currently, the truth is whatever is popular online. For instance, when you argue with a friend on a certain issue and couldn’t reach an agreement, you google it! Yuval Noah Harari in his book ‘21 Lessons for the 21st Century’ remarks, “as we increasingly rely on Google for answers, so our ability to search for information by ourselves diminishes. Already today, ‘truth’ is defined by the top results of the Google search.” This is why we are constantly tricked by false news. It is also the reason for losing our innate ability to search for the truth.

The other downside of the online world is related to the idea of sharing versus experiencing. People used to admire nature and actually experience moments. These experiences give value to our lives. Now, when we see something grand we reach for our smartphones, take a picture, and share it. Then, the significance of our experience is measured by how many likes it gets. Y. N. Harari in his book ‘Homo Dues – A brief history of tomorrow’ shows how the humanists' practice of writing a diary is now considered pointless. He shows the present mentality saying, “Why write anything if nobody else can read it? The new motto says: ‘If you experience something – record it. If you record something – upload it. If you upload something – share it.’” Thus, we constantly seek approval and give others the power to define our values. But, we may never stop to question our ways because there are always enough people to accept anything, no matter how absurd it may be.

The biggest threat of the online world is related to the unlimited dominance of government and businesses. Whenever we install an app, share our experience, or share posts, we are actually giving away our private lives. All the information we share online is used to determine our habits. Then governments can use it to manipulate the people. Businesses too can use it to control our purchasing ability. We may take pride in having control in our lives, but the real power is with those who have the data. Y. N. Harari asks rhetorically, “Have you seen those zombies who roam the streets with their faces glued to their smartphones? Do you think they control the technology, or does the technology control them?” Indeed, technology is in control and we have become the machines driven by it.

In the end, we cannot blame the tool for how we used it. You can use a knife to slice an onion or to stab a person, but you can’t blame the knife. The current trend shows that we go online to free ourselves from ourselves. Thus, we lose the meaning of life and try to find it online. As Y. N. Harari argues, “Meaning and authority always go hand in hand. Whoever determines the meaning of our actions – whether they are good or evil, right or wrong, beautiful or ugly – also gains the authority to tell us what to think and how to behave.” I think we should first know what we want before we go online and be lured with shiny things.


Abel Merawi is Addis Ababa-based contributor for Ezega.com. He can be reached through this form.

Other articles by Abel Merawi:

Fame Mistaken for Expertise

The Heavy Burden of Healthcare Workers

A Time to Reflect

The Plague by Albert Camus: Fiction Becomes Reality!

History of Pandemics in Ethiopia

Human Struggle Against Pandemics: Historical Perspective

Crisis Profiteers

You Can Make a Difference

Rule of Law for a Free Society


The Origins of Law

Determinants of Market Value: Part II

Determinants of Market Value: Part I

Your life Matters Too

Manifestations of Artistic Expression

Achievements vs Natural Accidents

The Grip of Sacrifice

Injustice is Never Justifiable

Education Demands of the Future

Job Security, Life and the Unpredictable Future

The Shift From Racism to Culturism

Sacrificing Meaning for Power?

Culture and Market Forces

Intersubjective Reality

Seeking Cosmic Justice

National Myths: Makers and Destroyers of Nations

Are We Truly Free?

Maturity: The Prerequisite to Freedom and Democracy

Loyalty to Truth, Not to Group

The Value of Work

The Flaws with Ethiopian Political System

Intellectuals and the People

Where Are Our Pathfinders?

The Allegory of the Cave and Its Lessons to Leaders

The Truth Behind Humanity

The Seven Virtues

The Seven Deadly Sins

What is the right thing to do?

Building National Identity

Adey Abeba and the Spirit of Change

Mob Violence

Living the Truth as a Human Being

Hubris - The Tragedy of Not Learning from Others

The Era of Group Mentality: Us vs Them

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