The Web Is Too Much With Us?

Foreword  

This article is the product of my efforts to elevate my understanding of the impact of communications technology to a higher level of confusion.  

For convenience, I use the term “Web” to encompass all forms of communications and entertainment technology and software–the Internet, social media, cable, satellite, new media, e-mail, mobile devices, laptops, desktops, notebooks, cell phones, mobile networks, ipods, etc.

  

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 NEWS ON THE WEB

Clearly one of the largest impacts of the Web has been on how we get our news. 

With a few clicks of a mouse or a search from a mobile device, we can access news sources from around the world. Moreover, it is a bilateral exchange if readers post comments to what they read, making traditional letters to the editor somewhat archaic. Add the proliferation of online equivalents of classified ads (e.g. eBay or craigslist) and you have a print newspaper industry struggling to survive and traditional radio and TV scrambling for multiple outlets on the Internet and mobile services.  

I’ll leave the future of the print industry and electronic news media to others to explore, except to note that the forces of the Web are affecting not only how we get our news, but from whom. 

Blogs and community bloggers (paid and unpaid) have been a growing source of news at all levels.  

In recognition of this trend at the community level, the Knight Digital Media Center at the University of California, Berkeley is conducting a workshop in March “… for journalists and others who are…becoming independent publishers of specialty blogs and hyperlocal community news sites that play a central role in the emerging news and information landscape.” (See Changing times in journalism and media!‏)

Petaluma’s Frances Rivetti  (Sonoma Country Life) will be one of the participants in the UC workshop.*

 COPING WITH THE WEB  

The Web has extended the reach of our human experience… 

  • If you have a question, you GOOGLE it. 
  • If you need to research a service provider or contractor, you check with ANGIE.
  • If you want to sell or buy something, you go to the AMAZON or check with CRAIG.
  • If you have a few moments to reflect, you can read your FACEBOOK.
  • If your tooth turns blue, you see a dentist. If your BLUETOOTH malfunctions, you go to RadioShack.
  • If you go out to eat, you may TEXT your friends or send TWEETS on your TWITTER between courses.
  • When you get home, you may YELP about your experience–if you did not already do so during desert.
  • Even better, if you go to a SPEED DATING session, you may do all the above in ten minutes or less!
  • If you get lost coming home from your speed date, you can GPS.
  • After arriving home, you may turn on your 50-inch LED flat screen and watch four shows simultaneously on one screen courtesy of ATT&T U-verse TV .

I wonder, however, if ordinary mortals don’t need a workshop on how to cope with the avalanche of information and communication. By my observation, it has become an all-consuming task for many, if not a lifestyle.  

Many, if not most, coffee shops I frequent have free Web access and are often filled with people communing with their laptops or mobile devices. Few are conversing with each other.

The “need” to communicate and to be constantly connected to the Web has almost become pathological based on examples from my experience… 

  • Cell phone calls from stalls in public restrooms
  • Calls to the office from a trail in Arches National Park while complaining about the lousy signal
  • Two men on a trail in the Muir Woods (cyborg phones in their ears), texting away and muttering, “I can’t get a signal!”
  • Teenagers in any size group walking down the street with their eyes fixed on their mobile screens

Our job as “consumers” of media is to sort through it all–or to ignore it if we so elect. It would be helpful to have some guidelines to assist in this sorting process–with perhaps a touch of instruction on the use of  practical critical thinking in judging what we see and hear.

This is all well and good for those of us who know, or should know, when to turn it off and return to the “real” world.  However, what about those whose life experiences and reference points are only Web based?  Endless streams of information and data do not produce understanding, much less wisdom. 

Many years ago, Marshall McCluhan commented on the societal impact of television with his famous–The medium is the message. However, what I fear now is a Web medium that is fracturing into an infinite number of voices–infinite until each and every soul on this planet has a Facebook page.

  • Could it be that we are headed for a society where relationships with avatars are more important than relationships with humans?
  • Is virtual reality the coming reality? 

A TWEET FROM WORDSWORTH?

If  William Wordsworth were alive today instead of the 19th century, perhaps he would have expressed his famous lament about materialism in a tweet such as this… 

The Web is too much with us, late and soon   

Our hearts now gone for a downloaded tune!  

Texting & Tweeting, we lay waste our perceptual

For little we see that is not simply virtual

When we have gone too far and virtual is actual!

****

(Alternate Tweet)

The Web is too much with us…

When Avatars

Drive Our Cars

To the Bars

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*Update 3:48 p.m. March 1. 2010. Frances Rivetti posted Revelations of an Ever Evolving Web News Frontier, which addresses many of the issues raised in this article. 

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10 thoughts on “The Web Is Too Much With Us?

  1. Good article… about 10+ years ago, while I was still very active with my local union that I belong to till today, I was on vacation in Paris… at the top of the Eiffel Tower with my wife enjoying the beautiful views… then my cell phone rang and brought me back to reality… it seems that a Union Steward in Novato needed advice and I was the only one who could help her… so our local Vice President promptly called me and connected us on a conference call before I could say anything… I was speechless… I have learned that in today’s world it is almost impossible to have “private” and “special” moments… although I have to admit I will never forget the look on everyone’s faces when I answered the call!

  2. Loved your Wordsworth tweets. However, I don’t share your fear. People still want to connect with real people. Thus the tweet ups that happen so people who’ve met via Twitter can meet in “real” life.

    • Believe it or not, I spent hours on the Wordsworth tweets. As to connecting to “real people” I am not so sure. We are in agreement that human contact/interaction is the goal. However, I am beginning to think it is at risk of being supplanted. Let’s see if anyone else jumps in on this. Fascinating topic!

  3. I, for one am looking forward to the human contact element of the UC workshop, having always been more of a people person than a tech-type. While online writing has provided me with an international platform, I need a regular dose of good, old fashioned interpersonal communication and eye to eye contact to keep me on track and in touch. Great post, Frank and thanks for your fearless investigations into this new and evolving frontier.

  4. I love technology — but it plays only a supporting role in my life. As a writer, I have made the transition from pen and paper to the wonderfully editable PC. Google is a godsend; and the natural researcher in me delights in the fact that I have information from so many sources available to me through the internet.

    When it comes to the rest of the Web world, however, I pick and choose what works for me rather than subjecting myself to the demands of the latest device. Technology is a tool, not a lifestyle. It is better to Be Present in the Moment of a unique experience than to separate yourself from the fullness of it by twittering or by holding up a camera phone to record it for the part of you that clearly isn’t there. It is better to converse, engagingly and openly, with the people seated with you at dinner than to text or talk to someone who wasn’t invited. Chat rooms can also become all-consuming, eating up so much on-line time that there’s little energy left for off-line friends and family. And if someone calls you while you’re standing with the person you love atop the Eiffel Tower, there’s this wonderful thing called voicemail!

    Technology is a tool, not a lifestyle. Turn it off. Disconnect from the web of chatter and noise and indulge your soul in the absolute bliss of silence. You can always plug in again later.

    • I offer this e-mail excerpt from a reader as a reply or suppplement to your comment– “…my observation of people today is that it is unacceptable to be doing only one thing. It is imperative that everyone multitask at all times. The thought of “quiet time” is actually frightening to many. The idea of having to come to grips with their inner self by spending time reflecting is not on the radar of activities.

      The issues are generational. The ambivalence your blog suggests, pegs you as an older generation. For the younger crowd, none of this is an issue for discussion. (I watch my kids and their friends)

      Technology is to use and discard as soon as something new comes along and they don’t give a thought to it’s impact on their humanity.

      Think of yourself growing up with telephones and automobiles. you don’t spend much time philosophizing about the impact of those on our humanity. As Tevye said in Fiddler on the Roof, “It’s a new world, Golda!”

      • I agree that my thoughts and attitudes peg me (like Frank Simpson) as an older person…but they also peg me as a person who has always had (even in childhood) a richly imaginative inner life. This is what most techno-addicts (young and old) are missing in their lives; and as Frank’s reader pointed out, “the thought of ‘quiet time’ is actually frightening to many” of them.

        I believe it is our responsibility, as the “elders” of our nation (and, apparently, I am to be counted among them) to convey to the youth of this information age that there is more to life than virtual reality and trivia overload, that there is strength and grace and understanding in reflective solitude.

        Meanwhile, we have these amazing gadgets to speed us through the tasks of the workaday world so that we are then free to carve out even more time for true human connection and inspirational silence.

  5. This is such a great piece. I really enjoyed it and have had many of the same similar thoughts. I spent the weekend at the bedside of a friend who was dying. Lots of people were coming and going at all hours. Four of us who were there the whole time each had cell phones in our pockets and they were ringing constantly. People who couldn’t get there wanted to know how she was and have us tell her they loved her. People who had been there earlier wanted an update. We could post her condition on a website from my iphone. If we hadn’t had the various types of technology to help communicate, no one would have known to send so much love. So you are right, this stuff has worked its way into every nook and cranny of life, even dying!

    • jd — A perfect use for the tools of technology, to link human beings together at such a critical juncture along life’s journey. My heart goes out to you and your friends. — leigh

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