Over the past dozen years I have logged countless hours on the Internet. I have written Internet software, been involved in numerous online forums and blogs and now get almost all my news from the web. During that time I have developed a love/hate relationship with the Technology That Al Gore Invented (I am such a geek I already knew how it was really invented when he made that claim). In many ways, I consider myself a “technological Luddite”. Anyway, here are five things I love about the Internet, followed by five things I hate about it.
THINGS I LOVE ABOUT THE INTERNET
1) Its egalitarian nature.
I love the fact that a guy with a lame website like drudgereport.com can become one of the most influential media outlets in the world. The barrier to entry is now so low that literally anyone can start a website, and if they have something valuable to say, it will eventually get heard. This has many implications for evangelization.
2) The accountability it fosters in public life.
I love that public figures are held so accountable. When Dan Rather tried to make up stories about President Bush, he was called on it and the scandal reached the public almost immediately. (Obviously, this can get out of hand – do I really need to know how exactly many women Tiger Woods had an affair with?)
3) Its communications power.
The Internet was originally created to allow for communications between government organizations in the event of a war, and communications is still what the Internet does best. We no longer have to depend on Tom, Dan or Peter to tell us what the Pope said – we can just find out ourselves at the Vatican website.
4) Its power to unify.
This year we saw the power of the Internet in the Iranian elections. People who were oppressed by the government were able to let their voices be heard, and the whole world listened. I can’t imagine something like that happening before the advent of the Internet.
5) Its research capabilities.
I honestly don’t know how people used to research before the Internet was created. I don’t know how I did any research during my high school and college days in the late 80′s/early 90′s without Google. Every topic imaginable is available on the Internet, and the vast majority of it is free. Yes, you have to be careful about your sources, but in general, it is not too hard to find solid reliable information regarding just about anything in just a few minutes.
THINGS I HATE ABOUT THE INTERNET
It is unbelievably ubiquitous. I did a Google image search recently for an ancient icon and one of the first images shown was a picture of a topless actress (I won’t explain the dubious connection between them). I have safe search on, but it must have gotten through the filter. The damage this easy access to porn does on our society in incalculable, and because of the Internet I started praying for the purity of my son on the day he was born.
2) Its addictive nature.
The interactivity of the Internet makes it much more addictive than TV. I have to work just to not be addictive to checking my email and other sites I frequently visit. Would Blackberries be called “Crackberries” if they didn’t have access to the Internet? This is why I take one day off a week from accessing the Internet.
3) Its deceptively impersonal nature.
There is no question that the Internet allows more ‘human’ contact than previous technologies such as the radio and TV. However, it is still impersonal. Right now I am sitting alone in my office staring at a computer screen. No matter how many people read this post, this is still an impersonal act. It can foster a false sense of community. I think the Internet is a powerful tool for evangelization (which is one of the most important personal acts we engage in), but it is foolish to think it is superior to old-fashioned offline friendships and communications. The Internet should be a tool which leads to real relationships, not a replacement of those relationships.
4) Its power to divide.
Yes, I realize this is the opposite of #4 under “Things I Love”, but that is the paradox of the Internet, isn’t it? Because of the Internet, one can live completely isolated from contrary views. And when this happens, we have a tendency to demonize those who disagree with us, instead of attempting to understand their presuppositions and worldview.
5) The death of the long form.
I realize that the Internet isn’t the origin of this (I would blame the television for that), but it surely accelerated its death. The very technology of the Internet works against the idea of long, in-depth writing. And it seems to get worse with each passing year: from web sites to blogs to twitter, it seems that no one can read anything of any length anymore. When I first started this blog, I read that you should keep your posts under 400 words or no one would read them. 400 words! Ents can’t even introduce themselves in under 400 words! (Imagine that for a minute: an Ent with a blog or, even better, a Twitter account). In fact, there is probably no one reading this sentence because it is well past the 400-word mark in this post. There is a time and place for short articles, but it seems like the Internet has eliminated lengthy works from our literary diet.
I’m sure I could think of more, but I’ll leave it to five each. Feel free to add your own likes/dislikes about the Internet in the comments.