“No medium can remove the need for thoughtfulness, artistry and eloquence in the creation of something great.”
Ah, the Internet! What started as a government plot to create an undestroyable network has turned out to be one of the few government plots to succeed, for the Internet has become a truly indestructible juggernaut.
Most publications still tend to treat Internet as a proper noun and capitalize it, but like earth, cosmos, spring, summer, winter and fall, the internet is now a force of nature. From here on out, I’m lower-casing it, because it is now part of the infrastructure. It is not owned or organized. It can’t be trademarked. It is the catholic church, not the Catholic Church. It will be the governing principle of M2 (new code for the new millennium), the medium that truly has become the message (see www.videomcluhan.com).
There’s no point in asking whether the internet is good or bad. It is. Even Luddites have a home page or two, one of which tells you to shoot your television against a backdrop of wallpaper blanketed with the phrase, Kill your computer. My daughters assume the internet, like I assumed television and my grandfather assumed steam engines.
The internet has brought us an e-mail network that enables us to keep in touch with far-flung family (I can reach all my brothers and sisters through e-mail), colleagues, compatriots of every stripe, and long-lost friends. People now routinely ask you what your e-mail address is, not whether you have one. We can reach many more people now. That’s a good thing.
Yet, if you have recently received a hand-written letter through the disdainfully named snail mail, you may appreciate that there is also something that is lost. To hold the letter in your hand and re-read it in a quiet place, in sunlight, no screen required, is undeniably pleasant. Because we have a new medium must the old medium be forced to die? Manual has almost become a term of derision, such that our dexterity declines with each generation. Is the day to come when all vegetables will come pre-sliced, so that we can throw away our knives?
A good e-mail is quick and allows for a response just as rapid, but the fast does not equate with the good. E-mails are often sloppy, with poor or non-existent spelling, punctuation and paragraphing. The writer thus freed from the constraints of convention has decided that the reader must toil to find their all-important message, delivered with all the grace of a long belch. Cybernauts are forever telling us that this or that thing could be put on the net overnight, but what of the great care that has always attended the process of publication?
The internet has all the beauty and terror of anarchy. It is an information resource of vast and wondrous proportions to be sure, and I love it. I go to a variety of sites almost daily. Within minutes, I can read ten good reports on Kosovo. I can find myself looking at the seating chart for the Metropolitan Opera, train schedules for Germany, or the murals of Diego Rivera. I can send a book to a friend at the push of a button.
Yet the internet is also an unwieldy agglomeration of jewels and oddments, the sacred and profane thrown together in a big pot that can make searching like bobbing for apples in an Olympic swimming pool. The vaunted search engines (even employing advanced techniques) do not even approach the efficacy of the card catalogue, that great manual beast that organized all of knowledge for accessibility. I half-cringe when my daughter says, Dad, can I go on the internet? because I’m not sure if she should venture in these waters un-navigated. You can go from the art museum to the combat zone in the blink of an eye. As a little test, I decided to search first sex, then meditation, then sex and meditation. The New York Times is my home page (get a life, eh?), so I decided to use their Northern Light Research capability, which searches over 130 million web pages and 5,400 full text resources (ooh la la, am I impressed). The #1 match for sex was Do you like teen anal pictures? Then, 2-4 were each Do you like free teen pictures? Then, #5 repeated, Do you like teen anal pictures? #7 offered the Zhangguang 101 Series for Hair Loss Stopping and Hair Regrowth. #9, Vive la difference: males vs. females in flies and worms, was about fruit flies and the X chromosome.
The first three matches for meditation brought me: This document can be acquired from a sub-directory coombspapers via anonymous… followed by meditation, meditation and more meditation, a commercial site immediately trying to sell me books and programs. One of the top sites in the sex and meditation search was tantra.com, which early informed me that tantra was more than souped-up nookie. Thanks for that.
The internet does present us with great opportunity. In many ways it is a medium par excellence, but it is no savior of humanity. No medium can remove the need for thoughtfulness, artistry and eloquence in the creation of something great. That will never change, whether it is M2 or M22.