In Defense of the Internet

I’m pretty damned sick and tired of people claiming the internet / television / printing press / fill-in-the-blank is making us dumber.  It’s a tired old tune, and it’s time we stopped mistaking the end of the world as we knew it with THE end of the world.  It’s time to grow up, accept change, and realize that every change comes with good and bad.

The anti-internet philosophy is nothing new.  It’s been used over and over again, every time there’s some radical shift in media.  When you get right down to it, every time media becomes more accessible to the masses, there are always those who will view it as a dumbing down of society, as a needless distraction for those unworthy of it.

It happened to books.  There were plenty who bemoaned the invention of the printing press because it would allow just about anyone to put their ideas on paper and make them readily available to the public.  Books were going to destroy the family because if everyone had access to them, they’d all just sit around in their drawing rooms, reading and not talking to one another.  And even the uneducated could now publish their pamphlets and send them out to the world.  Writing could become an everyman profession, not just a hobby for the elite and educated.

The phonograph was going to take music away from the common man.  Instead of having singalongs with friends and family, people would be sitting, passively listening to music rather than being part of it.

Television . . . do I really need to go into television?  We all know how television is supposed to have made us stupider, ruined the public discourse, an uncouth, unsophisticated medium that screwed up everything.

And now it’s the internet.

It’s all bull.

Okay, so it’s not entirely bull.  The printing press did indeed make books more accessible and allow the development of the working class writer.  The phonograph did destroy singalongs as a common recreational activity.  Television did allow many of us to sit in our homes, not communicating with our families.

But to say that’s all they did is to only see half the picture.

If you really get down to it, if you discard everything else, each of these innovations has allowed us to share ideas easier than previously.  And that will always lead to a “lowering” of the collective intellect of a society.  In the Middle Ages, only the educated were expected to read and write.  The poor and underpriveleged had no voice.  Their existence was toil.  Their thoughts and opinions deemed unimportant.

The Rennaisance (I should spellcheck that, but I don’t really give a damn.) was a time of great learning and advancement.  But most of this was funded by the wealthy, controlled by a handful of learned scholars who relied on the rich for funding.

Radio and television put entertainment in the homes of everyone, and while quality is always subjective, it did also put news and current event broadcasting to everyone.  It created a more unified culture, allowed people who would normally have nothing to do with each other to share a commonality.

The downside is that more media doesn’t always mean better media.  There is only so much quality to go around, and while the printing press, radio, television, etc. allowed more people a voice, a lot of those people will have voices not necessarily worth hearing.  But it’s less important what they have to say and far more important that they are allowed to say something.

It’s easy to deride the internet. We all know about its lowest common denominator.  We’ve all read the comment sections where people devolve into name-calling, bad spelling, and ridiculous hyperbole.  We’ve all stumbled upon websties, intentionally or not, that speak volumes about the stupidity of the Terran species.  We’ve seen the videos of people immitating Jackass, of people who find getting smacking in the testicles to the height of comedy.  And taken on its own, it certainly isn’t a pretty picture.

But for all its unpleasantness, stupidity, and absurdity, the internet has done the unimaginable.  It has given nearly everyone a voice.  (Except for the very poor, who always, always get screwed.)  It has taken the ability to express yourself and made it such a common thing that we don’t realize how amazing it is.  It’s allowed us to tap the collective knowledge of mankind without having to even leave our homes.

The worst kind of intellectual will see this as a negative.  They will bemoan the fact that their precious sphere of influence is in the hands of the common man.  But they’re wrong.

I won’t say that the internet doesn’t have its dark side.  There are thousands of hours of worthless television programming, thousands of forgettable films, thousands upon thousands of unexceptional and offensive books.  But that’s just the price we have to pay for giving more people a voice in our culture.  A voice they rightly deserve just as much as anyone else.

And if that’s the price, I’ll gladly pay it. 

Fighting the good fight, Writing the good write,

Lee

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7 Comments

  1. Posted September 24, 2010 at 2:59 pm | Permalink

    “The phonograph did destroy singalongs as a common recreational activity.”

    Yes, but then came karaoke! (Really good piece. Total agreement.)

  2. Rie Sheridan Rose
    Posted September 24, 2010 at 3:24 pm | Permalink

    Erudite as always. Totally agree.

  3. Rippley
    Posted September 26, 2010 at 2:25 am | Permalink

    Neat! So, how are you doing?

  4. SanNick
    Posted September 28, 2010 at 2:34 am | Permalink

    The internet does give us a glimpse of our collective mind but it’s the mind of a maniac.
    Is that good or bad or just a fact? I don’t know, I guess it doesn’t matter. If it serves my purpose than I suppose that’s good for me, right?

  5. Posted September 28, 2010 at 12:47 pm | Permalink

    Good stuff, as usual. Thanks for the thoughtful and entertaining article!

  6. Posted September 28, 2010 at 7:32 pm | Permalink

    The poor in America have something that elevates them, informational, above the poor in other parts of the world though. Public Libraries.

    With American public libraries, absolutely anyone can go into a library, sit down at a computer and get online. True, times and days may be limited, but the free access is there.

    They can educate themselves, post on an article, even operate their own blog if they so choose, as the number of free blogging and social information sites in nigh endless.

    The “problems” of the internet are largely due to a given persons expectation of it. how they were educated to use it.

    For those, like myself, who see the internet as a tool and a resource, the positives are numerous and valuable beyond description.

    For others ,who see the internet simply as an entertainment device. a social networking toy, well, you get out of it what you put into it. If you put nothing into it, you get nothing out of it.

    To me American Libraries are the hallmark of true freedom and the internet is the great equalizer. Anyone can speak their mind, tell their tale and get the attention of others, regardless of income, gender, social or economic status, etc…

    At least, that’s how I see it.

    T Sandoval

    • A. Lee Martinez
      Posted September 28, 2010 at 7:48 pm | Permalink

      You’ll get no argument from me. Public Libraries are one of the greatest inventions in the history of civilization.

2 Trackbacks

  1. [...] In Defense of the Internet: The anti-internet philosophy is nothing new.  It’s been used over and over again, every time there’s some radical shift in media.  When you get right down to it, every time media becomes more accessible to the masses, there are always those who will view it as a dumbing down of society, as a needless distraction for those unworthy of it. [...]

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