Wednesday, December 24, 2008

Some Internet Criticism

The great part about the Internet are the cascading torrents of links which turn the whole thing into an integrated network.  Of course, a small number of important sites do a great deal of the shifting through and highlighting, but it's not entirely a top-down system as the original sources are often spotted by topic specialists.  The entire enterprise remains hugely dependent on the big newspapers to generate things to complain about.  

The process is hugely addictive, certainly for consumers and likely for the intermediaries as well.  Pick up the Outrage of the Day, add a political spin, and send on down the line for supporters to fawn and denigrators to be outraged at your having brought up the subject up, having your view, etc.  It's like a jolt of crack to see the day's information, get pulled into the argument, weight sides, and scribble nonsense at the other side.  Most things people do offer delayed rewards, so it's no surprise to see millions flock somewhere which offers the constant allure of More Stuff To See, more information, more discussion.  That incessant flow disguises the fact that people rarely talk about the thing in itself, almost never have the background or understanding of the topic, and so most things are thinly covered politics.  But behind all the shallowness that comes with discussing even the most serious of topics you can see even broader dynamics of push-and-pull between broader personalities and outlooks, which do change even if no one ever changes their mind.   

One of my personal pet peeves is the autistic understanding of language which happens all around.  When people talk in the real world they bring all sorts of implicit meanings behind gestures, phrases, etc.  The anonymous and toneless nature of the internet grounds everyone in the literal meaning of words, which greatly impoverishes thought.  Take analogies for instance.  People make analogies all the time to compare certain aspects of A to certain aspects of B.  Any random A, B are likely to have something in common, but when people make this connection they generally mean that something in particular is going on.  This is after all how we learn; we link new things to things which we already know.  On the Internet, people will generally take the connection out of context, and mock it on face value.  People care less about how a statement is interesting than about it's truth value, but people also don't care enough to look up the thing's truth value and instead rely on heuristics.  

Broader psychological misunderstandings abound.  The urge for firebrands and activists to hear themselves results in a massive overpopulation of fundamentalists of every stripe.  Nearly everything on the Internet is reductive.  People everywhere search for validation and online they get it through low blows, petty remarks, and swift thrusts.  It's as if the place is run by the Oxford Debate Society.  The particular psychological rut of conspiracy theories, shallow thought, and general angst make the Interet a very motly but, well, a very "male" place.  Despite all the links, it's very antisocial, with very little in the way of relationships or empathy.  These aren't gone, however, but come up in the strangest of places.  

It's very much like a city in that way, with a blizzard of activity covering up a lack of introspection, memory, and history.  What has happened before, what is really going on now, and where things are headed are abandoned as people race to meet the demands of the current cycle.  It's like travelling the world with some smart, but not too smart, argumentative friends who have amnesia.  I don't know what this is doing to our intelligence, but someday the internet will drop the vicious circles and parlor tricks and become the thing it was meant to be.  The problem is not that it's escapist, but that it's not escapist enough and is still bound by the conventions other people set in other media.  I want to stumble upon Dutch's blog, see more passive-agressiveness, maybe some irony and parody.  Things that don't make sense, complex psychological issues, some other prose than dry and without adjectives.  A Russian novel in parts; something jointly written by people across the world.  

Wow, it's tough to talk about things in the abstract.  

1 comment:

Zora said...

There are islands of serenity on the net. I have found my fellow volunteers at Distributed Proofreaders to be some of the kindest people in the world. We're working together on a common mission (to turn public domain books into free e-books) and we're all book nerds of one sort or another. The DP web forum is an island of civility.