Tuesday, February 12, 2008

The Internet: Killing Brain Cells Since 1974


Al Gore invented the internet. Or so the story goes. It’s hardly true, of course, but while he may not have invented the internet, he did support the development of the internet as a Congressman from 1977 – 1985. More recently, Gore has been involved in an internet venture called Current that hopes to “transform television by plugging it into the internet.” What’s interesting about this is that Gore also won a Nobel Peace Prize in 2007 for his work on climate change. The fact that he served 8 years each as U.S. Vice President, Representative of the House, and Senator already says a lot about his capabilities as a government official. Add to that a Nobel Prize, and there’s no doubt we’re dealing with an intelligent person. Yet fellow Nobel laureate Doris Lessing firmly believes that “the internet makes us dumb.” If Gore managed to remain intelligent enough to win a Nobel Prize despite years of internet use and development, how do we come to terms with Lessing’s claim?

According to the TechCrunch article, Lessing’s primary complaint seems to be that people “read nothing and know nothing of the world.” She’s not alone – fellow sympathizer Andrew Keen believes that the internet is killing our culture since "without professional fact checkers, grammarians, and publishers,” internet sources are “by definition less accurate, reliable, and honest than professionally edited newspapers, encyclopedias, or books.” However, in light of recent scandals involving plagiarism by journalists, how can we be so sure of the sanctity of the printed word?

I’m not about to jump on my pro-internet soapbox and denounce the ideas put forth by Lessing or Keen. A lot of what is available on the internet is unfortunate – from mindless YouTube videos to pornography to trite blog posts about nothing, the internet can become a digital dumping ground for mediocrity. However, the key word here is can. The internet is a tool, and as such, it can be used for a number of inane/silly/stupid reasons. But that doesn’t mean it has to be. Think about the volumes of academic journals made available to students and teachers through resources such as Aladin. Or the countless newspapers that have created equivalent websites, including the Washington Post and the New York Times. Or how about Google’s initiative to digitize books through its Google Books Library Project? The internet is an amazing resource – it simply depends on what sites you visit and what you search for. Which makes me wonder – if Doris Lessing did use the internet even once, what exactly did she see to make her hate it so much? Oh if her search history could talk…

Image from: http://1.bp.blogspot.com/_6mly2CH6NSc/R7GXQEIRyeI/AAAAAAAAAAs/ty-MSt9eZuE/s1600-h/successoryinternet400.jpg

4 comments:

Will A. said...

I wondered whether Doris Lessing had used the Internet before reading the entire article “A hunger for Books” – Doris Lessing (published by The Guardian) – 12/08/07. What i learnt from the complete article was that Lessing was trying to point out the flaws of the internet if not used in the right way. She was also trying to make a point about the development of a child's writing ability if they chose to read poor articles from the Internet versus well written books....Lessing in my opinion had used the Internet because in the article she had also praised it as a revolution in readily avilable communication lines. The context of the blog i thought was misleading and led various bloggers to disagree with Lessing...why may i ask?...because most bloggers failed to read her entire article to put into context her statement before commenting..

Olu said...

Doris Lessings' stance about the internet to me seemed as though it was addressing the issues of how factual the content is and how well written the subject matter. In ways I understand what she is saying but if you place standards on what is posted on the internet you will probably have less information readily available. In school we all are taught to include our source of references when writing and we are also taught about grammar in school, but how many people did you know when you was growing up still was unable to always speak grammatically correct. Students on a whole are learning less and it is not because of the internet. For instance, I used to teach College Algebra, Pre-Calculus and Calculus while in graduate school and the one thing I found was that most kids could not do simple arithmetic without a calculator. Was this the fault of the internet? NO!!!!!!! It is the fault of the education system and parents of the students that has place all of these mechanisms in place to aid in learning and the kids cant grasp the fundamentals. Everyday I would have to remind students that if you learn math you will be able to manage your money better. On the board I would write "MATH IS MONEY". I think that children can learn a lot from the internet. Suppose you was able to shut down the internet to discourage usage for children. You know what they would do play video games. Less learning and killing more brain cells. Who am I though?

Denis Largeron said...

True, Internet is a tool, you CAN use almost anything in a smart or stupid way.
The only question is: are you able to define what is smart and what is stupid?
If #1 parents mission is giving security and food, that sound like the #2 mission.
At the end of the day the problem might not be an digital/virtual as it seemed... human relationships, here, again.

Denis Largeron said...

I had some struggle to find back this youtube video...
www.youtube.com/watch?v=5mFwYdq5QFE

Nothing really special, but the guy touched me. He's a very simple and funny video blogger that used to do stupid videos at the beginning when he was "younger". A lot of them. He's more mature now and realize it.

Basically his point is that you should not regret your past, when a house is burning, you want to save the pictures, these are your memories. You should not be ashamed of what you do, what you are.
"Don't give a crap about that people think."

He really convinced me, Internet is a great place to display one's life, work, thinking, feeling...

I then have another question, that can also change the debate we had yesterday:
Is it a real problem to be or to apprear dum?

I don't think it is.
:-)