“Children are wasting their lives on the Internet,” they say.  “The Facebook and the Twitter and the YouTube are killing their brain cells,” they say.  Who is this ambiguous they?  Well, it’s people such as my mother who constantly warns me that surfing the Internet will be my downfall. Well, it’s time we defend ourselves, and say, “Browsing the web is not a complete waste… at least 50 percent of the time.”  In fact, sometimes, we actually learn important lessons.

The other day I was mindlessly surfing YouTube when the related videos took me to a short film entitled, “Love Is All You Need?” The video chronicles the story of a heterosexual female who commits suicide after being bullied in a society that accepts homosexuality as the norm. On top of advocating against bullying, the video, which took a social norm and turned it on its head, forced viewers to question reality and not just as it pertained to sexual orientation.  I literally sat in awe for at least five minutes after watching the video questioning everything I considered “normal.”

The video had over one million views; however, it was no “Friday” by Rebecca Black.  People weren’t talking about this video, and I seriously doubt I would have found it had I not been exploring the many corners of the web. True, web browsers aren’t spending all of their time watching these types of videos; however, meaningful stories are abundant online. Sometimes, the only reason the Internet’s more impactful stories become known is because someone was browsing the web.  

Once I recovered from the state of shock brought on by the aforementioned video, I turned my attention to the comments.  I usually find the intense debates that occur over YouTube comments sections more amusing than intellectual, but they can provide a unique experience: a wide variety of people are able to present opposing viewpoints on a topic in a forum that allows for universal access and immediate rebuttal.  Viewers are exposed to perspectives completely different from their own in a way that would be impossible in a confined setting.

Discovering new viewpoints is not just limited to commenters debating over a controversial topic. In fact, many anthropologists now consider social media websites as an integral component of time-space compression.  Essentially, the Internet decreases the amount of time required to share ideas among people facilitating cultural diffusion. That’s right. Your time spent on social media could help you become more cultured and connected to the world around you.

Cultural diffusion isn’t the only way the Internet  promotes connectivity.  The World Wide Web provides a safe haven for teenagers who often struggle to fit in the real world.  For all the opportunities the Internet allows for anonymous bullying, it also offers a place for teens to feel safe and accepted.  Facebook pages, Twitter followers, YouTube channels, and other various forums all serve to create communities that connect  people who share interests, passions, and fears.

One such community that I often rely on is the YouTube channel danisnotonfire.  For those of you unfamiliar with this particular channel, it is a British male in his early 20s describing how awkward he feels his life is. Although I am not British, male nor in my 20s, I, as well as his other viewers, relate quite well to his many stories of mishaps and misadventures as I too struggle to complete everyday tasks.  This channel serves as a community where people can come together and be proud of their abnormalities in a way they may be too scared to do in the real world.

Never shirk schoolwork or other responsibilities to surf the Internet with the excuse that an article in the school newspaper told you to, but when you do find yourself browsing the web, take advantage of the opportunity.  Prove to the doubters spending time online does not have to be a waste of time by actually taking away something from the experience: pay attention to the meaningful stories, use social media to learn about different people, and recognize the Internet as a place to relax and fit in.