Thursday, October 27, 2011

More evidence that the Internet might make us stupid

One of my observations is that the Internet has not made us smarter, more reflective, more astute, or more of anything except apathetic and lazy about facts and data.  Don't know why.  Maybe it's because so much information is there, we've become numbed to it all.

Anyone over the age of 40 can remember a time before VCRs (those are the things that existed before DVDs).  Likewise, there was a time when Cable TV meant having about 12 channels or so.  Typically in those days, certain shows and specials came but once a year, and when they did, they brought great cheer!  So the Wizard of Oz was shown once a year, and when it was shown, it was an event.  It was right up there with a birthday, or going to Cedar Point, or any other special event of the year.  Same with holiday specials.   It's the Great Pumpkin Charlie Brown, A Charlie Brown Christmas, How the Grinch Stole Christmas, why the list is endless.  These were events.  They were special.  They meant something.

But when Cable TV turned to an endless stream of channels able to show the same show a hundred times in a season, or you could see the same show a dozen times on a dozen different channels, things changed.  When you could buy the Christmas special and watch it in June, or August, or March, or you could watch it fifty times before Christmas, it wasn't the same.  Familiarity, they say, breeds contempt.  And that is what happened with so many specials (which might be the appeal of 'Reality' TV, it is, after all, one season only and ever). 

Perhaps the Internet has done the same.  With so much information at Google's fingertips, it has lost its 'umph'.  It has lost its value.  Of course there could be other reasons.  For instance, with so many websites in the world, it's not hard to hunker down and become part of a rather small slice of the human experience while convinced you are right due to the number of others on that site with whom you agree.  If you are convinced that the 9/11 attacks were part of a vast, right-wing conspiracy, then you could spend your entire life surfing the sites dedicated to that rather small, extreme viewpoint, all the while convinced that the facts are overwhelming and that no doubt endless hordes of people see it your way.

Maybe there are other reasons.  Maybe I'm off by a mile.  I just notice that there is a shocking lack of depth and perspective in the Internet world.  One way this is manifested is that lack of distance we tend to run when it comes to looking back on things.  I'm not sure why, but for the Interenet generation, history seems to stop sometime around 1992.  Certainly cultural and social history. 

When I was growing up in the pre-Internet days of the 70s and 80s, we were aware of things that happened more than 20 years earlier.  We were aware of King Kong.  Of Lon Chaney, Sr.  Of Big Band era music and Bing Crosby.  Those things seemed ancient, seemed old, seemed beyond our time.  But we knew they were there, and we had a respect for them.  In fact, many of those old personalities still played a roll in our own time. 

Yet when I see things spoken of today, when I read reviews or postings about pop culture, entertainment, social trends, you would think there was no world before 1992.  Case in point.  Here's a bold article on Yahoo News (I know, I know), offering to reflect on the Best Halloween-Themed TV shows Ever.  That's Ever.  As in, you know, Ever.  But what's the oldest show there?  Rosanne.  Rosanne in 1992.  Most of them are within the last few years at best.

Sure, this trend has been going on for some time, and the world of Entertainment News is not exactly high quality journalism at its finest.  And if it were just this, or similar listings, I would shrug it off.  After all, I can remember old VH1 'Countdowns' of the greatest Rock Songs of All Time!  I was always shocked at how the list moved so much.  I thought it if was the greatest of all time, most of the tops songs should be the same every year.  And they almost never were. 

But it reflects a greater tendency I've notice to isolate ourselves to small, shallow perspectives on not just the history of TV, but the history of everything.  For some, in some articles, pieces, blogs, it appears that the Internet has given rise to the tendency of seeing five years ago as the beginning of prehistory.  Maybe the reasons I threw out there have something to do with it.  I just know that as long as people speak of Ever as going all the way back to 20 years ago, I'm not going to automatically assume that the Internet age has therefore made us smarter.  Maybe it hasn't made us dumber.  But it sure doesn't suggest any increase in our overall ability to grapple with the world of knowledge to which we've been exposed.   

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