Friday, April 27, 2007

The Internet: Boon or Bane?

The easy answer is 'both', of course. Like every tool we've invented, the Net can be used for good or ill. The extent to which it is ill-used is not its fault, any more than it's a car's fault when someone is run over.
So many people--overwhelmingly older people, say, 45 and up--believe the Internet is a vast shadowy jungle, where monstrous things lurk, ready to tear out your soul and eat it raw. They are part. The "World" part of "World Wide Web" is literally true: the 'Net is much like our Earth, civilized and urbane in many areas, wild and insane in many others.
People young enough to hear the word "mouse" and not think of a rodent have a different view. They're intimately familiar with their own little hamlet on what used to be called the "Information Superhighway"....and familiarity only breeds contentment in their elders. They're bored; they want to explore, and the dark places have an undeniable allure. So they poke and prod, and the more reckless of them are claimed, in one way or another, by the spiders that do lurk in the web.
When the Net was birthing, optimism ran high: here was a tool that could be used to connect people, to facilitate truly global perspectives...ultimately to save humanity from itself. Before this thought had been fully articulated, pornography and worse had taken root--and the soil of the Net is fertile indeed. We all know the majority of Net traffic is connected with smut.

Of course, it's an even bet anything "we all know" is wrong. Lo and behold, according to The Straight Dope, while sex is indeed popular, it ranks well behind music and (surprisingly, to me, at least) travel as a search item.
It's true that hardcore porn is trivially easy to discover online. Before my spam filters evolved into things that actually worked as advertised (I haven't received a single spam email in I can't recall how long), I often used to get such gems as "Suzie And Her Horse" and "Watch Jenna Take It All" delivered unsolicited into my Inbox on a near daily basis.
But then, it's trivially easy to find just about anything online: old friends, new friends, job opportunities...if you're inclined towards skullsweat, you can mine the minds of millions and come away with the equivalent of a Master's degree in nearly any field you can imagine, all for the cheap-and-ever-falling price of a high-speed connection.

It's often asserted that, as teen culture continues to migrate online, attention spans are rapidly shrinking. An article in today's Globe and Mail notes that although teenage television time is decreasing (like that's a bad thing?), the few dramas still watched include Lost and 24, both of which feature long and complex story arcs, proving that youth are willing to pay close attention under certain circumstances. Teenagers I know think nothing of carrying on six or more online conversations simultaneously, a juggling act I, frankly, envy, even as I find myself questioning the point of it all.

For every child predator emboldened by anonymity and easy access, there are many nice, natural, normal people who met online and are now in nice, natural, normal relationships. Much is made of the possibility of deception, especially concerning one's physical appearance: but as technology evolves into permitting online video and audio conversation in real time, this is rapidly becoming a moot the process arguably eliminating the appeal of an online relationship for people like my younger self, who lacked self-confidence and had to win people with words alone.

For every al-Qaeda cell recruiting online, there are organizations like Humanity's Teamdoing the same, trying to foment peace and understanding. You say you can go online and get a step-by-step tutorial on how to make a pipe bomb? You can do the same in any library--and more to the point, you'll only find out how to make a pipe bomb if that's something you were interested in doing in the first place.

Culture, and the Internet so integral to it, is simply evolving. It's natural for many people to regard evolution as frightening, since it forces contemplation of unknown futures. But no matter how far or how fast the Internet evolves, it's important to remember: even though it has its sharp edges (or perhaps because it does), the 'Net is merely a tool.


Rocketstar said...

This is a fascinating subject. It has been shown that it is TECHNOLOGY that truly chnages us as a race.

The internet is chnaging us, atention spans, human interaction, information gathering etc...

The internet is maybe the next revolution in human evolution.

Anonymous said...

Interesting article. Your opinions was one of the many I consulted while I was doing my school essay. Thanks man.

DILIP said...

Really your observations are fantastic. THANKS FOR SUCH A USEFUL ARTICLE !