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The Daily Wildcat

The Daily Wildcat

 

    Internet corroding our sense of reality

    Thirty-year-old aspiring model Paul Zolezzi committed suicide by hanging himself from the monkey bars at a Brooklyn playground early Friday morning.

    He wrote a short goodbye note to his family and friends, telling them he would “”end … his life in Brooklyn”” and that he “”couldn’t have asked for more.”” Rather than leave the note for someone to find after his death, however, Zolezzi chose to post it as his Facebook status.

    We live in a time where every moment of our lives is Facebooked, texted, blogged, Twittered or YouTubed. Anyone can claim a small space of Internet, a cyber-plot of land, and use it in whatever way they like.

    In this semi-disconnected space, we can express anything. We can rejoice or rant; flatter or slur. The combination of free speech and anonymity protects even our cruelest accusations. We can use any words we want, even the vilest epithet, and avoid responsibility or even ownership of that language.

    It’s freeing, in a way. Never before has self-expression been so universal. People that would never keep a physical journal maintain LiveJournals. There’s little need to keep any emotion bottled up, because it’s so easy and acceptable to plaster rage and despair all over the Internet. Aspiring writers have a forum to present their work without the fear of rejection that comes with the world of publishing. Anyone can be published. It’s a wide-open universe of self-revelation, without strings attached. On the Internet, you can divulge everything and simultaneously hide your basic identity. Anyone can be anyone.

    More and more, surprising people are cropping up in my Internet life. A beloved high school teacher Twitters, so I suddenly know more about his personal life than the boundaries between teacher and student would ever have permitted. My mother (horror of horrors) just set up a Facebook account.

    So, at what point does this become overexposure? When does the Internet become just plain scary?

    When a man uses it to tell his friends and family goodbye, forever, and no one takes it quite seriously enough. When, between the time he posts his suicide note on Facebook, and the time he takes his own life, not one of the hundreds of people with access to his online profile takes it upon themself to try and save the real, flesh and blood Paul Zolezzi.

    Perhaps in this particular case he couldn’t have been saved. He struggled with drug addiction and the suicide of his father when Zolezzi was only eight years old. His own tragic end might just have been in the cards for him.

    But how do the rest of us differentiate between what is aimless emoting and what is real? The Internet, by insulating us so greatly, makes us incredibly vulnerable to others’ apathy. It’s hard to tell the difference between a rant and a cry for help, so most people don’t take the time to do so. We just take it all in, absorb without acting, often without even responding.

    I’d like to think that if someone I knew made truly scary statements online, like those of Paul Zolezzi, that I’d have the wherewithal to investigate them further; I hope I’d at least call. I want to believe that my friends would do the same for me. But in all honesty, I’m not sure if I can discern the threshold of scary. I’m afraid of violating privacy, of breaking the trust implicit in Internet relationships, the online don’t-ask-don’t-tell policy. I don’t want to tread on any virtual toes.

    It’s startling that something meant to connect us all has become so alienating. The Internet has watered us down as a culture, disseminated emotions so that there’s no way to tell what’s real. Online, we can say anything, or be anyone. That freedom is great, until everyone becomes so overloaded that what we say and who we are don’treally matter.

    Sometimes, it’s important to combat the anonymity. We must be held responsible for what we reveal about ourselves, regardless of the forum. We need to use the Internet, an incredible resource, more responsibly, and treat our own and others’ online selves with more thought.

    And sometimes, we just plain need to say things out loud. We cannot continue to worship at the altar of the World Wide Web, neglecting reality and ignoring the cries for help – vocalized and genuine – of those around us.

    Heather Price-Wright is a creative writing and Latin American studies sophomore. She can be reached at letters@wildcat.arizona.edu.

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