To piggyback on my introductions to media ecology, a stimulating question to me is how the dominance the Internet (especially Google) has affected us. Media ecologists have been discussing this issue for several years, and the conversation may be taking on a renewed sense of urgency as Google has started to grow in several other areas (browsers, email, etc.). Besides the fact that they will eventually take over the world, how does the medium of the Internet, and Google, shape us?
Though Neil Postman advised strongly that we need to divest ourselves in our belief in the magical power of numbers and statistics, media ecologists do at times grudgingly do empirical research. Many have argued that the Internet (and Google) are making us dumber. Mark Bauerlein, in The Dumbest Generation, writes that in the four minutes it will take you to read this blog post, you will have been reading for half the time that the average 15- to 24-year-old spends reading each day. But you may not even read this whole post – after all, who has time? You probably have better things to check, like your friends’ Facebook statuses or Tweets.
Why, you may be asking, is something like the Internet, with its vast amounts of knowledge (Wikipedia!) making us dumber? Well, for one thing, younger people – and increasingly the older generations as well – primarily use the Internet to check up on one another and follow pop culture. Facebook is by far the most popular site on the Internet, and Twitter is the fastest-growing site.
Digital socializing is taking over lives, making people live more fragmented, less meaningful and less intentional, and more ignorant lives. The Internet, and specifically Google, promotes a type of fast-food “learning” that is fast, free, and convenient. “People seek out what they already hope to find, and they want it fast and free, with a minimum of effort,” Bauerlein writes. With the Internet, people do not have to continue to read/watch/listen to something that bores or challenges them, which “habituates them to juvenile mental habits.”
This leads to poor spelling and grammar, stunningly increased narcissism, civic illiteracy, lessened attention spans, huge amounts of wasted time, and a confusing of the trivial with the meaningful – not to mention the transcendent. A sort of addiction to technology is also the result, with our insatiable appetite for newer, faster, smaller, more powerful technology. As this year’s must-have technologies age, in a few years we have to have the latest and greatest gadget. Facebook’s day will end. So too will the iPhone’s. The only question is when, and what will replace them.
The source of the problem isn’t completely with the medium of the Internet. Used well, Google and the Internet can be a valuable source of research, learning, and connecting. People must be taught to use it to their best advantage. Much of the problem lies with the Internet’s users, their parents, educational systems, political leaders, and religious organizations.