The internet is probably the second greatest invention after the wheel. It has completely changed the way people communicate. Within a few years after the proliferation of the worldwide web, the world has been reduced to a mere village.
In the past, obtaining information was a slow and tedious process. For instance, one had to have access to a library in order to extract information. There are certain limitations from using a public library. The facility operates at certain times of the day after which it is closed. It may not be possible to obtain particular reading material either because there may be few copies or the only available copies have been borrowed.
With the entry of the internet, this status seems to have changed overnight. From the comfort of one’s home it is possible to access volumes of information online, keep in touch with friends or even study for a degree or diploma. Virtually anything that the mind conjures can be obtained via the internet.
Such status has had a huge impact on the way people communicate, obtain and share information. Despite the fact that information has suddenly become easily available, one cannot be ignorant to the fact that there has been a culture shift. The learning culture has been seriously affected. Students no longer have to work hard at their class assignments, for example. After all, answers are just a click away.
Keywords: Internet, information, books, reading
Unlike other sources of information such as books, television and radio, the internet easily improves ones understanding of world events, scientific occurrences while enhancing the ability to communicate. However, there is a risk of people becoming over reliant on this resource at the expense of originality. The purpose of this essay is not to paint the internet in bad light but to create awareness of some of the risks to the way people obtain and use information through this medium.
In my opinion, this has robbed the society of the initiative it once had to seek for information and use the same for diverse needs. The aim of this paper is to show the extent to which the internet has had such an effect on ways in which people obtain information and make use of it. Technology helps make work easier through efficiency and saving time. In this regard, the internet scores highly. Much as most people would tend to stick to the benefits, it helps to look at the other side of the coin as this paper will shortly show.
Death of the reading culture
Tyler Cowen states that “There is no question that books are becoming less central to our cultural life.” Such is the effect internet has on a people’s mind. It has made it very easy to get any information one needs. This has adversely affected the reading culture. Institutions of higher learning have had to contend with plagiarized assignment papers submitted by lazy students who choose to cut and paste content from the internet. Little wonder then that most people visiting a public library do not go to borrow or read books but rather to browse for content on the net.
Likewise, Christine Rowen (In the Beginning Was the Word) is in agreement that books are on the way to extinction. Electronic books have taken over. She writes in part, “But their widespread use has sparked broader questions about the relevance and value of the printed word and the traditional book.” This is proof are quickly becoming obsolete.
Peter Suderman (Treading Water in a Sea of Data) concurs by stating that “I’ve found it increasingly difficult in recent years to read books…” Many hours spent on the computer screen wear out the eyes, brain and entire body. The brain sort of shuts down after one reads a few lines. It has gotten used to scrolled pages or popping messages. It becomes difficult to follow arguments.
Social Networking sites
Social networking sites are another phenomenon whose growth has hit an all time low. In today’s world, one may be considered “old school” if they do not have a Facebook or Twitter account. Social networks are credited with opening up the world of friendship. Somebody can have friends from their own locality and different parts of the world. They can chat, share information and even exchange photos. As a result, a lot of insight is gained on how people live, bonds are created and opportunities exploited.
On the flipside, social networks have become the dumping ground for obscene photos, lewd jokes and comments about other people’s undoing. We spend so much time commenting about issues that add no value whatsoever. As a result, people have become a bunch of gossips, rumor mongers and time wasters. In some parts of the world, young people believe that the internet is actually Facebook! A lot of productive time is spent giving updates, commenting on the folly of other people and all sorts of mischief. Employers have been forced to take stern action by regulating internet browsing or shutting down access to social networking sites completely.
One cannot help but agree with Tyler Cowen’s assertion on why people want to be on the web, “…just to have fun or to achieve some pretty straightforward personal goals—they may want to know what happened to their former high school classmates or the history of the dachshund.” Instead of engaging in more educative activities like research for a school project, many would rather find out the latest music releases, top blockbuster movies or when the next drama series will premiere on television.
Information chasing after people
The human mind is created to be inquisitive, always chasing after information. Technology has put this natural ability at risk. Suderman (Treading Water in a Sea of Data) points at the problem thus “…the larger problem here is the conflation of boredom with lack of stimulus. The idea hinges on the notion that humans at rest are intrinsically lacking in some way, that a mind cannot be at peace with itself.” Conversely, the internet disseminates information faster than we can look for it. Through its regular use, we get hooked to being bombarded with new information every minute. As a result, the thought process cannot be completed as bits and bits of information keep streaming in.
In the end the human society gets bombarded with so much information than can be handled. Take a look at an average internet user. A laptop or PC is the main centre of attraction. Besides him or her is a smart phone or ipad. As one hand scrolls back and forth at the computer, the other is busy touching an ipad’s screen in the quest for more information. While this is happening, the television is on. No one may really be watching it but the set has to be on. There may be breaking news and one would not want to miss that. Such peculiar habits have given rise to multitasking. This is a typical case of a system overload, even though Cowen thinks differently. He opines “But even though it is easy to see signs of overload in our busy lives, the reality is that most of us carefully regulate this massive inflow of information to create something uniquely suited to our particular interests and needs—a rich and highly personalized blend of cultural gleanings.”
The point here is that, the thirst for information cannot be quenched unless some controls are put in place. That is where the problem lies since the quest for information is a lifelong process. As more is injested, there is no vacuum since some other information takes the place of what has just been taken away.
It is remarkable how the world has been changed by the internet. There have been a lot of benefits. Business opportunities have been realized, people have a larger capacity to acquire information and the amazing ability to reach out to as many friends as they can.
An email takes only a few seconds to reach the recipient. One does not need to sit in a concert to enjoy classical music. Neither does a student have to flip through volumes of encyclopedias. Shopping has gone online and so has gambling.
The world as we know it has gone electronic. These changes are irreversible. However, despite all the benefits associated with the internet, it is imperative that side effects be addressed. Tyler Cowen is optimistic that technology brings efficiency and speeds up the way things are done. On the other hand Christine Rosen could not have said it better that “The fault, dear reader, lies not in our books but in ourselves.”
If mankind can go to the moon, discover planets and spend days in space, then there is no limit as to how far technology can go. There is need therefore for self regulation. Controls might be put in place but there may be no police to enforce them. Everyone should look out for themselves. One should know when enough is enough. A little of both worlds should do the trick here.