Thursday, August 09, 2007

For your edification

Since I have done little since this time yesterday besides write an exam, draw up a proposal for paper, and go to Red Robin for late-night snacky-wings, here, as promised, is my paper on the (nearly) omnipotent and (almost) omnipresent Internet.

Are you writing a research paper? There is no need to spend hours in a library, poring over dusty old tomes. The Internet is here! Did you miss last week’s episode of ‘So You Think You Can Dance’ and forget to set your VCR? That doesn’t matter. The Internet will provide it for you, commercial-free. Do you need to invite three hundred of your closest friends to a party, but can’t afford postage? E-vite them for free via (you guessed it) the Internet!! The Internet impacts everything we do: the way we work, the way we play, the way we get stains out of our clothes. By infiltrating every aspect of modern life, and by trumping, if not the exact form, at least the basic function, of nearly every other innovation of the past hundred years, the Internet has become the most impactful invention of the 20th century.

Unavailable to the public until the early 1990’s and widely used only in the middle and later years of that decade, the Internet barely sneaks in under the wire of the 20th century. Many people confuse the terms ‘Internet’ and ‘World Wide Web,’ thinking that they are one and the same when, in reality, the Web is a sort of construction that rests on the greater structure of the Internet. It is, obviously, far more complicated but for the purposes of this paper, we will be dealing with the Internet as a whole, including the Web.

One of the primary initial uses of the Internet was the trading of information. To this day, swapping data remains one of the most prevalent activities conducted in cyberspace. Scientists can post the results of their experiments immediately, resulting in more efficient collaborations, and quicker and greater gains in the scientific field. Students researching papers on obscure subjects can find plenty of online articles on the subject in seconds. Formerly, it would have taken hours of legwork and a healthy amount of foresight in order to catch the library when it was open. True, fact-seekers must be wary when searching collaborative information sources such as Wikipedia, where contributors require no qualifications, but the same is true of any information sources, from magazines to people. When the printing press was invented in 1440 (a little fact gathered, by the bye, by simply typing ‘printing press invented’ into a search engine), it reshaped the face of education, since information could now be widely disseminated among the masses. Still, the information could only travel as quickly as the stage coach and, later, the steam engine, could carry it. On the blazing saddle of the Internet, a teenager traveling to Thailand can inform his parents back in Canada that he is safe almost the instant his plane touches down.

With the inception of email, blogs (short for ‘web-log,’ a sort of on-line diary), Instant Messaging programs, and social networking sites such as Facebook and Myspace, socialization has become digitized. The cost of a stamp once ensured that the message one was sending was good and lengthy. Email is quick and free, and has led to a more byte-sized method of communication. Instead of eight pages scrawled from margin to margin, we have ‘I’ll be home at 6:30’ and ‘Pick up some milk on your way.’ Email has replaced, not only the letter, but the quick phone call as well. With long-distance charges through the roof and finite daytime cell phone minutes, it is far cheaper to email a friend in Guadalajara than it is to phone them from Vancouver.

It is also cheaper and more eco-friendly for friends to meet on Facebook or MSN (an Instant Messaging service) than it is for them to pile in their gas-guzzling cars and meet face-to-face. It is, unfortunately far less personal as well, and has led, many say, to shallower relationships. The increased ease in communication leads to an increase in ‘friends,’ diluting the sincerity of a relationship. A visit or a telephone call means the receiver is worth an effort; an Instant Message means the sender had a second to spare. Internet-savvy friends do sometimes break away from their modems to get together, only to find that they have nothing to discuss. ‘How was your weekend…never mind, I read about it on your blog.’ ‘Want to see my pictures from the concert?’ ‘I already saw them on your Facebook.’ Whether the impact of the Internet on social interactions has been largely positive or largely negative, one can hardly dispute the fact that it has become, for most people, at least part of their communication strategy.

If the Internet has altered our communication, it has revolutionized our recreation. Gone are the days of putting on pants to go rent a movie. Netflix will, for a monthly flat fee, take your requests online and mail your DVD selections right to your door. If you are short on both cash and scruples, you can download most films illegally off of the Web almost as soon as they are released (sometimes even before). Downloading music, both legitimately and otherwise, is an activity that has risen by leaps and bounds, sending the CD industry into a downward spiral. Sites like YouTube allow one to watch entire episodes of television shows, or simply the two-minute bits one likes best, without requiring them to do so at any given time. Such sites also help propagate meaningless stardom. If a teenager in New Jersey wants to film himself enthusiastically lip-synching to a Romanian pop song and then become instantly famous for doing so, YouTube puts that goal well within his reach. Indeed, the notoriety of such dubious celebrities as Paris Hilton and Nicole Ritchie can be laid largely at the Internet’s virtual door. Even casual gossip has become digitalized.

Surely, some will say, celebrity blogs and websites will never take the place of good old over-the-fence chatter. Surely, curling up with a laptop and an online-book account will never be as cozy as snuggling down with a good book. Surely a film viewed on an 18-inch monitor with tinny, standard-issue speakers will never compare to a theatrical showing. This paper is in no way suggesting that the Internet will stomp such antiquities as conversation and printed matter out of existence. Indeed, with the exception of CD’s (which offer little besides bulk, expense, and an extra step between music and your iPod), most inventions have things to offer that the Internet simply cannot provide. Rather than replacing these things outright, the Internet simply serves as an often cheaper and more convenient option.

The Internet is a tool with many faces. With it, we can do anything from playing chess with a friend in Thailand to ordering our groceries to be delivered to our door. As of June 30, 2007, over 1.156 billion people were using the Internet (Internet World Stats). It has invaded our coffee shops and airports, our cell phones and Personal Digital Assistants, our homes and offices. With its power and pervasiveness, the Internet is has truly had the greatest impact of any invention of the 20th century.

1 comment:

Jacki said...

Well then, how did you do on the paper. Better than a "B" I assume ;P