Monday, March 14, 2011

Winning! Or What is Wrong With the Internet

WARNING: Today's post has very little to do with knitting, spinning or string in general.  It is a rant, based upon personal responses to recent events and too much cold medication.  You may take or leave the opinions expressed below, according to your own personal editing mechanisms.  Just because it is on the internet does not mean the following has any value to anyone besides the author.

Well, all that found time I wrote about in my last post got eaten up pretty darned quick!  Here I am, ten days later, playing catch-up again.

Since we last visited, I have been to Edmonton, where Miss Julia had surgery on her knee, and back.  I spent most of last week sitting and waiting, knitting mindless wristwarmers, and pondering the Mysteries of the Universe.  And now I am down with another head cold that is making me too groggy and grumpy to do much except ponder some more.

I have pondered the events of my past month, and the factors that led up to my misadventures with US Customs.  I have pondered the Great Question of art versus craft. I have pondered the bizarre weather of this past winter, its causes and its impact on my life.  I have pondered survival tactics for the upcoming zombie apocalypse.  But mostly, I have pondered technology, the internet, and social media.

You see, I have been engaged in a triangular love-hate relationship with my computer and cell-phone for the past seven or eight years, as they have subtly inserted their tentacles deeply into every aspect of my life.  I resent the intrusion of the constant ringing of the phone in my pocket, yet I cannot leave the house without it for fear I miss something important.  I dread opening my emails each day, not knowing if good or bad news lurks there, but I am addicted to that beep that lets me know there is a new incoming message.  I remember the halcyon days when multi-tasking meant listening to music when I knit, yet I thrive on juggling emails, phone calls, a person in the room, and plying a complex boucle yarn.  All at the same time.  While supper is cooking.

As the years have passed, I have come to rely more and more on my computer.  I use it to write and print letters and information. I use it to make art.  I use it to organize and store my pictures.  I use it to organize Fibre Week from 700 km away.  I use it to organize workshops. I use it to teach.  I use it to stay in touch with family and friends.  I use it to find out what is happening in the world around me.

I am more connected than ever, too.  I carry a laptop when I travel to stay in touch.  I have emails and Facebook on my phone.  I tweet from all over, thanks to SMS.  I am wired into the world.

But lately, all of the nonsense and bullsh*it coming across the wireless waves is really annoying me.  From bad spinning and knitting tips being foisted onto unsuspecting beginners on forums and newlists to the whole Charlie Sheen debacle, I feel like the internet is drowning in a sea of swill.  All garbage, all day.  We are so "in touch" that we are losing touch with reality.  What is real is the horror of the earthquake in Japan.  What is unreal is the deluge of hateful Facebook updates suggesting that the earthquake was payback for Pearl Harbor or Japan's whaling activities.  What is real is that Charlie Sheen in a cocaine-addled celebrity in dire need of help.  What is not real is that he is WINNING!  Or funny.

Yet, every time I fire up the old computer, there it is, in all it's glory.  Unlimited information.  Such that it is in the 21st Century.  Communicated to us instantly.  We are in touch with the world around us, all day, every day.  We know EVERYTHING!!  All at once!

 I like the Information Age. I love that I can keep track of people's lives via Facebook, and that I can type my rambling philosophical thoughts into this blog.  The internet is a good thing.  Most of the time.

In 1964, a rather clever fellow by the name of Marshall McLuhan wrote a book about television and its influence on society.  He coined the  phrase "The medium is the message", which, essentially, means that the way information is delivered influences how that message is received.  Little did Mr. McLuhan know how true that would become in the internet age.  Everything on teh interwebz is True!  Everything on the world wide web is Important!  Every email is Urgent!  Every tweet, status update, and blog post is Vital Information, without which, the WORLD WILL END!!!!

McLuhan's opinion was that as news and information invaded the home, it became more intimate, more a part of our day-to-day lives.  We could not separate the information on television from our daily lives anymore.  I wonder if he ever imagined a day when we carried our media in our pockets and had 24-hour access to that information.  Or that information having 24-hour access to us.

We have lost the ability to turn the message off.  The medium is so ingrained in our lives that we cannot escape the message.  McLuhan suggested that the content of that message itself was more or less irrelevant, which leads me to my point.  We are losing our sense of perspective.  We are unable to discern good information from bad.  We are losing our ability to think critically.  We are becoming media-driven zombies, unable to escape the constant barrage of information, good and bad, and increasingly unable to differentiate which is which.  We are becoming more isolated, and more cruel to each other.

Now, I am not saying that there were no sources of bad information before the internet conquered the world.  I am not saying that there was not specious gossip, or pointless distractions thrown at us.  Nonsense and bullsh*t were invented 15 minutes before civilization was.  But, with electronic media in our faces 24/7, beeping urgently at us, we do not have the time to sift through every message we receive for the facts. And the facts are getting few and far between.  With more and more social media sites and blogs, we are getting fewer facts and a lot more opinions.  Not that opinions are bad--this whole post is nothing more than an opinion--but they are often used in place of facts.  Because we are so constantly bombarded, we are not sorting our information and opinion and fact are becoming one.

The key to survival is to learn how to look past the medium to the message.  The internet has become so much a part of our lives that we cannot live without it, or see past it.  But it is only a tool, just like a hammer.  We can choose to use a hammer to build, or to destroy.  But that is up to each of us as individuals.  We can do the same with our blogs, our tweets, our status updates.  We each of us control the medium.  We ARE the internet and social media.  We can be a positive force, building a better world, by choosing not to spread bad information or mean comments.  We can make sure of our facts before we share information on forums or blogs.  We can stop retweeting gossip and speculation. 

Information is currency.  And the more stable the currency, the greater its value.  We cannot censor the thoughts and opinions of others, but we can question their value.  We do not have to blindly believe it because it is streaming into our computers and phones.  We can get second opinions and form opinions of our own.  We can question "facts" that seem odd.  We can check with a second source before we drink the Kool-aid. (Seriously, a recent study found that most students rely on the first information they find and do not seek a second source.  And several bloggers argued that the study was unfair, because the researchers doing the study made their website "too believable" or that the children were too young to know better.  Kids question Santa Claus, but not the tree octopus.  They can find porn, but not information on where Egypt is actually located.  What is that about, then?)

We are thinking creatures.  So let's think when we use the internet.  Let's not turn off our brains because of a few flashy graphics or a viral link.  If we let the medium dictate our lives, that zombie apocalypse I am preparing for will happen a lot sooner than we expect!


  1. Anonymous7:58 PM

    If only more people were so conscientious as to add such a warning to their rants :)

    I read a great article a few years ago, something along the lines of "10 Reasons the Internet is Ruining Your Life." I have never been able to find it again despite searching several times, I think the gods of the internet ate it because they knew it would talk people away from worshiping at their altar ....

  2. Brava! Totally agree with you, Michelle, and you said it much better than I could. I don't have a cellphone (just an iTouch), don't answer the landline (they must leave a message), don't have a Facebook or Twitter account and I'm STILL overwhelmed with information. And I'm so disappointed with the rudeness I'm seeing everywhere. Just because you are (semi)anonymous doesn't make it ok to be mean!

    Hope you feel better soon. Hugs!