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Surely we can do better than llamas and a dress

Adam Graham
The Detroit News

Thursday was a historic day for the Internet. It also turned out to be a historically dumb day for the Internet.

That the two coincided tells us a lot about where we're heading with our digital lives.

Thursday was the day the Federal Communications Commission approved the net neutrality policy, ending a months-long debate that threatened to regulate the speeds at which we are able to access the Internet. It was a complicated issue that was difficult to grasp, but basically came down to a ruling that means everyone — consumers, companies, content providers — is entitled to access the Internet at the same speeds. A ruling against net neutrality would have meant certain sites and providers were given priority over others, speeding up traffic for some and slowing it down for others.

The ruling was a vote in favor of an open, democratic Internet for all. That's good! And we celebrated it by showing off our worst Internet tendencies, clogging those open information superhighways with talk of llamas and a heated debate over the color of a dress.

Is this what Al Gore envisioned when he invented the World Wide Web?

The llama drama occurred when a pair of the animals got loose in Sun City, Arizona, and ran free in the streets. That was enough to basically shut down the Internet, as for a few gloriously dull hours it seemed to be all anyone online was talking about. Llama memes sprouted up, hashtags were appropriated (#LlamasonTheLoose, guys!), and in the ultimate signifier of instant Internet sensation status, the llamas got their own Twitter account. (Surely the @SunCityLlamas account will be providing us with laughs for years to come, just like the Twitter account dedicated to Angelina Jolie's right leg — remember that one?)

By nightfall, the llama talk had mercifully died down, but things were about to get much dumber. That's when a static picture of a woman's dress took over the entire Internet. Yes, a picture of a dress, not even on a human being. Just a dress. Can you feel the excitement?

The Dress — capitalize it, because it's important — is apparently a run-of-the-mill optical illusion; some see it as white and gold, others see it as black and blue (although it's clearly white and gold, so how others can see it as black and blue is a mystery). And that mystery became the night's biggest story, as Facebook, Instagram and all social networks ground to a halt as folks stopped what they were doing in their real lives to join in on the sizzling online debate. Taylor Swift tweeted about The Dress, that tweet received 98,000 retweets, and legitimate news outlets wrote stories about Taylor Swift's tweet about the dress. It was like we were living out an episode of "Black Mirror" in real time, or we had finally achieved full "Idiocracy."

The Internet is truly what we make of it. It's ours, and it's the greatest intellectual resource that has ever been built. But wow, do we treat it like a landfill. It's not that we need to spend our time online solving the world's problems — can ISIS really be fought through our keyboards? — but there are times when the conversation is so moronic that it makes you want to unplug and go off the grid for good.

Can things get worse? Oh yeah, they will. Let's just hope when we start looking back at llamas and The Dress as the good ol' days, we're doing it while doing something besides staring at our screens.

agraham@detroitnews.com

twitter.com/grahamorama