does the internet really exist?

I apologize for answering your question in this way –and I tried to find ways to avoid it, but it can’t be helped: It depends on what you mean by “exist”. It seems clear that the Internet doesn’t exist in the same way that a table or a person exists –at least until you try to figure out what the difference is.

The Internet is not a single, discrete physical object like a table –it is the collective name we assign both to a communications network between millions of computers, and to the information that flows over that network. Yet one might also argue that a table is merely a collective name for a diverse collection of millions of atoms arranged in a particular configuration.

The waters get even more muddied when one considers the tradition in philosophy, primarily associated with Plato, that says that everything we perceive as ordinary reality is only a pale reflection of a truer and deeper level of existence. From that point of view, it would be hard to say whether the Internet, as a largely conceptual entity, might not have a better claim to existence than the table.

how should you behave on the internet

This is as much a practical question as a philosophical one, and from that perspective, I would say this: Remember that nearly everything you post on the internet is archived and searchable, including email, so try not to put anything out there that you wouldn’t want people to be able to connect to you ten years from now. I think we all forget that rule from time to time, but we do so at our own risk.

Other than that I think people should try to conduct themselves on the internet with some version of the same standards they would apply in person. The internet is an opportunity to create a new persona, but you should try to make it a better persona, not a worse one. Be kind and helpful to those you encounter, even the “newbies,” treat others with graciousness and politeness, strive to accomplish good things and avoid negative ones. No one meets those standards all the time, of course, but that’s an ideal to strive for. When you look back at your old posts a year from now, you’ll be happier to see a compilation of witty and appropriate comments than a record of flame wars, random trolling, and pictures of your butt.