Is the internet — and all that goes along with it: the screens, the technology, the apps — good or bad?
That’s been the question churning in the undercurrent of this season of CNN’s Chasing Life with Dr. Sanjay Gupta. The podcast has been examining the effects of screens on our minds and in our lives, with a special focus on social media and young people.
One person with a front-row seat at the internet revolution is Hank Green. A science communicator, vlogger and author, Green got his start on YouTube in 2007 — two years after the first video was uploaded to the platform and a few years before “content creator” and “influencer” existed in our vocabulary.
Today, YouTube is one of the most popular social media networks worldwide, second only to Facebook; it’s estimated that more than 2.5 billion monthly users collectively watch more than 1 billion hours of videos each day.
Green continues to enjoy a slice of that bounty. Tens of millions of people have seen him along with his brother, best-selling author John Green, in numerous educational YouTube videos, some of which are shown in schools around the country.
Asked the good/bad internet question, Green said it’s like asking whether a hammer is good or bad. Your answer depends on what you do with it. Do you use it to build a house or to hit someone over the head?
Or maybe it’s more like the printing press.
“I think a lot about the printing press,” Green said, noting its important role in the Protestant Reformation in the 1500s. “We suddenly had the ability for people who disagreed with … the Catholic Church to take it on and say, ‘I think that you’re doing it wrong, and we’re going to share that information. We’re going to be better at it than you, and we’re going to be more nimble than you.’
“It was a messy, messy time. It was very bad, and lots of people died,” he said, “but nobody thinks we shouldn’t have books. We figured out how to have books and have them not be societally destructive.”
Green said the church shouldn’t have had that much power then. “We needed to move into a world where there was more individual agency,” he said. “And I think we’re having that now. And that’s not a conversation about young people and screen time. That’s a conversation about every single one of us in the society we exist in right now.”
Green said many social media companies have been thinking of the societal implications of what they do. “But mostly the thing that we’re fine with is: OK, you’ve got this technology, use it how you can, and make as much money as you can, because that’s how that makes sense,” he said.
“We haven’t really thought about how to do it in a way that’s really pro-social. We haven’t thought about how to sort of make the tool best for a human and best for human outcomes, because that’s really complicated, and it’s kind of scary.”
Listen to more of the conversation between Gupta and Green as they discuss whether the internet’s future is utopian or dystopian, the responsibility of having a platform, and how to deal with trolls. Plus, find out what makes Green really mad about the internet!
Catch up on recent Chasing Life podcast episodes.