There was a great article in last week’s New Yorker by Adam Gopnik titled “The Information: How the Internet Gets Inside Us.” His essay discusses the big-picture effect of the Internet on our lives, as well as analyzing the conventional wisdom about its benefits and drawbacks. Gopnik says most of us fall somewhere into 1 of 3 categories:
These people believe that we’re entering a near-utopia, and all it’s because of the Internet. They will cite how it’s made our world smaller, connecting people in ways never before possible, literally saved lives and its “democratization” of information.
This group believes we would be much better off if the Internet never existed, and that much of the ills and alienation we experience today is the Internet’s fault. These people not only mourn the decline of books and magazines, but state that the Internet is changing our brains, lessening our attention spans and (ironically) disconnecting us from one another.
These people say that well, that we’re always saying this. Because we can’t step outside our current experience, whatever “age” we’re going through is (obviously) our most modern age, and brings with it new technology that is exciting to some and disturbing to others. This group claims that the Never-Betters and Better-Nevers said the same things about the invention of the printing press, then the radio, then the automobile, then television and now the Internet. In fact, fifty years from now we’ll look back at the Internet Age with nostalgia as a simpler time before the next technological advancement was invented and rescued/ruined everything.
Of course, in many ways all three are both completely right and laughably wrong. For example, in the case of the Never-Betters, think of the hypocrisy in the abundance of books being written about how the book is a dead medium. Gopnik uses the example of the toaster:
When the electric toaster was invented, there were, no doubt, books that said that the toaster would open up horizons for breakfast undreamed of in the days of burning bread over an open flame; books that told you that the toaster would bring an end to the days of creative breakfast, since our children, growing up with uniformly sliced bread, made to fit a single opening, would never know what a loaf of their own was like; and books that told you that sometimes the toaster would make breakfast better and sometimes it would make breakfast worse, and that the cost for finding this out would be the price of the book you’d just bought.
Here’s my question to our readers: even though there’s some truth in all three factions, do you find yourself more strongly linked with one group? Or is Gopnik right when he says:
Thoughts are bigger than the things that deliver them. Our contraptions may shape our consciousness, but it is our consciousness that makes our credos, and we mostly live by those. Toast, as every breakfaster knows, isn’t really about the quality of the bread or how it’s sliced or even the toaster. For man cannot live by toast alone. It’s all about the butter.