5 ways the Internet is destroying society
Mar 20, 2010
With a heavy sense of inherent irony indeed, here’s my summary and snips from a fascinating article by Michiko Kakatuni in The New York Times criticizing the copy/snip culture created by blogs and the Internet.
Her’s is not a simplistic ant-Internet screed, but a reflection about the deeper meaning of important trends. I don’t agree with it all, but well worth a read!
The Internet is reshaping culture, politics and society to…
- Fragmenting news articles, novels and record albums
- Emphasizing immediacy and real-time responses
- Increasing the flood of data and information permeating our lives
- Blogging and partisan political Web sites are putting pressure on subjectivity
…accelerate many trends…
- The blurring of news and entertainment
- A growing polarization in national politics
- A deconstructionist view of literature (which emphasizes a critic’s or reader’s interpretation of a text, rather than the text’s actual content)
- The prominence of postmodernism in the form of mash-ups and bricolage
- A growing cultural relativism that has been advanced on the left by multiculturalists and radical feminists, who argue that history is an adjunct of identity politics, and on the right by creationists and climate-change denialists, who suggest that science is an instrument of leftist ideologues.
…that trouble even technologists (in at least 5 ways):
You Are Not A Gadget: Jaron Lanier, 49, a Silicon Valley veteran and a virtual reality pioneer
True Enough: Farhad Manjoo, 31, Slate’s technology columnist
Cult of the Amateur: Andrew Keen, a technology entrepreneur
Carl Sunstein, 55, a Harvard Law School professor who now heads the White House Office of Information and Regulatory Affairs and has written several books on the topic
Steven Johnson, founder of online magazine Feed, writing in The Wall Street Journal
1- Anecdotes trump evidence and analysis
More people are impatient to cut to the chase, and they’re increasingly willing to take the imperfect but immediately available product over a more thoughtfully analyzed, carefully created one. Instead of reading an entire news article, watching an entire television show or listening to an entire speech, growing numbers of people are happy to jump to the summary, the video clip, the sound bite — never mind if context and nuance are lost in the process; never mind if it’s our emotions, more than our sense of reason, that are engaged; never mind if statements haven’t been properly vetted and sourced.
Online research enables scholars to power-search for nuggets of information that might support their theses, saving them the time of wading through stacks of material that might prove marginal but that might have also prompted them to reconsider or refine their original thinking.
2- The rise of “Water Cooler Culture”
With millions of people sending each other (via e-mail, text messages, tweets, YouTube links) gossip, rumors and the sort of amusing-entertaining-weird anecdotes and photographs they might once have shared with pals over a coffee break. And in an effort to collect valuable eyeballs and clicks, media outlets are increasingly pandering to that impulse — often at the expense of hard news. “I have the theory that news is now driven not by editors who know anything,” the comedian and commentator Bill Maher recently observed. “I think it’s driven by people who are” slacking off at work and “surfing the Internet.” He added, “It’s like a country run by ‘America’s Funniest Home Videos.’ ”
Individuals can design feeds and alerts from their favorite Web sites so that they get only the news they want, and with more and more opinion sites and specialized sites, it becomes easier and easier, as Mr. Sunstein observes in his 2009 book “Going to Extremes,” for people “to avoid general-interest newspapers and magazines and to make choices that reflect their own predispositions.”
“cyberbalkanization.” Individuals can design feeds and alerts from their favorite Web sites so that they get only the news they want, and with more and more opinion sites and specialized sites, it becomes easier and easier, as Mr. Sunstein observes in his 2009 book “Going to Extremes,” for people “to avoid general-interest newspapers and magazines and to make choices that reflect their own predispositions.”
4- The End of Authorship
Pundits squeeze out reporters, authors write biographies animated by personal and ideological agendas, while tell-all memoirs, talk-show confessionals, self-dramatizing blogs and carefully tended Facebook and MySpace pages becoming almost de rigeur.
In a Web world where copies of books (and articles and music and other content) are cheap or free, Mr. Kelly has suggested, authors and artists could make money by selling “performances, access to the creator, personalization, add-on information” and other aspects of their work that cannot be copied. But while such schemes may work for artists who happen to be entrepreneurial, self-promoting and charismatic, Mr. Lanier says he fears that for “the vast majority of journalists, musicians, artists and filmmakers” it simply means “career oblivion.”
5- The End of Culture
Much of the chatter online today is actually “driven by fan responses to expression that was originally created within the sphere of old media,” Lanier writes, which many digerati mock as old-fashioned and passé, and which is now being destroyed by the Internet. “Comments about TV shows, major movies, commercial music releases and video games must be responsible for almost as much bit traffic as porn,” Mr. Lanier writes. “There is certainly nothing wrong with that, but since the Web is killing the old media, we face a situation in which culture is effectively eating its own seed stock.”