Thursday, November 01, 2018

After all, we make this media ...


Kevin Drum has been thinking about whether our internet addiction makes the world a worse place. He thinks not.

I once wrote that the internet makes smart people smarter and dumb people dumber. Likewise, it might very well make good people better and bad people worse. But on average, that doesn’t mean the world is a worse place. So why does it seem so much worse?

That’s pretty easy: the internet boasts an immediacy that allows it to pack a bigger punch than any previous medium. But this is hardly something new. Newspapers packed a bigger punch than the gossipmonger who appeared in your village every few weeks. Radio was more powerful than newspapers. TV was more powerful than radio. And social media is more powerful than TV.

Contrary to common opinion, however, this has little to do with the nature of these mediums. Sure, they’ve become more visceral over time: first words, then pictures, then voice, then moving images, and finally all of that packaged together and delivered with the power of gossip from a trusted friend. But what’s really different is how much time we spend on them ...

Does all this mean that there’s more news than ever before? Of course not. Does it mean that there seems to be more news than ever before? Oh my, yes.

And that brings me circuitously to my point: broadly speaking, the world is not worse than it used to be. We simply see far more of its dark corners than we used to, and we see them in the most visceral possible way: live, in color, and with caustic commentary. Human nature being what it is, it’s hardly surprising that we end up thinking the world is getting worse. ...

Maybe I am not quite so sanguine as he is, but I think we'll adjust to preserve our humanity while enjoying our technological marvels. I could be wrong.

I'll find out if I'm wrong insofar as I engage with the real world alongside taking advantage of the immediacy of so much information, both painful and delightful.

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