Tuesday, November 28, 2017

Some Observations on Internet

1.  It is rare that a piece of writing on the internet is re-read.  That is an indication that internet is primarily a medium of interaction, information and entertainment. 

2.  It is well-understood that distraction is harmful for a deeper understanding.  What are the ways in which internet forces distraction on you?  Since the medium is ad-driven, any one page on a major website has many other headlines and titles tempting you to stop reading and click on them.  It is an interesting exercise to time yourself before you click on something else.  Like in modern films in which a cut happens every few seconds (as compared to old films in which each scene is on average much longer), the primary feature of internet consumption is an accelerating disruption in reading (or watching) and the jump to something else.

3.  The primary difference between a written and a streaming medium (even an audio book) is that there is no time to pause.  How many times have you voluntarily paused a lecture or documentary to ponder over it?  This makes it easy to understand why television, videos (TED!) and lectures are much, much less effective in fostering a deep understanding born of reflection and pondering, as compared to reading.

4.  Books are also primitively hyperlinked in terms of footnotes which can motivate you to read the original text from which an excerpt or a conclusion has been quoted.  But streaming media and internet (or even Kindle) make it hard to pause, refer to something else, and then come back to the original text.  The best content on internet takes the best features of the book, and offers easy access to references in their entirety.  Wikipedia, for example.  But Wikipedia is factual, what about opinion pieces on the internet?  This is the primary reason "fake news" is easy to disseminate on the internet than in a book or journal article.  Internet makes it hard to do research because it is easy.  Because it is easy to tempt you, and make you jump to something else rather than really just focus on one text and its sources.

5.  The vast majority is not interested, or doesn't have the mental space for, meditation or reflection on an issue.  Understanding complexity takes effort.  But what is happening to the minority which is so interested?  If the medium is toxic in fundamental ways, it will eventually affect the genuinely intellectual in similar (if slower) ways than others.

6.  It is therefore important to use the internet with discrimination and an awareness of its temptations.  I hope that concerned educators, if they understand what is going on, will introduce courses in schools and colleges on internet and its discontents, probably titled as "online attention and time management".  I can only hope.

7.  Because something is easily available, it can also thereby remain on the watch-list or reading list.  What takes priority is the latest, the sensational and the witty.  One can always (never, as it happens) find time to listen to that one-hour lecture or read that 2000 page essay.  Since it is available, what is the hurry?

8. You might rail against advertising and its intrusive nature, but what about intrusiveness of content itself.  YouTube finishes a video and offers you suggestions which you have to cancel otherwise it will play the next.  Major websites offer click-bait article titles on top, on bottom, and on both sides.  The noise is overwhelming.  How can you read Marcus Aurelius or Umberto Eco in a cacophonous and cackling den of chaos.  If meditation essentially is founded on inward silence, then internet is the most toxic way to never have that silence.

9.  Someone suggested that the elites of the future will predicate their elitism on a longer attention span.  The proles will remain distracted and chuckling at the latest sex scandal or at the fat lady slipping in the pool.  What that means for democracy and evolution is not difficult to comprehend.  Will humanity evolve a balance?  I doubt it.  The last hundred years have gone in one direction only: a greater control of the public mind.  The Century of the Self has now evolved to become the Century of the Distracted.  It is still early days, but given that trillions of dollars, and the very engine of consumption and elite power, are weighing on the other scale, what chance does a teenage student have to preserve his attention and sanity?

10.  FANG is an acronym which could not be more appropriately named by gods themselves.  While they used to need guns and armies, it is infinitely easier for the elite vampires to suck the blood of an entire generation without human intervention.  You might have the smartphone in your pocket, but you are quite firmly in theirs.

1 comment:

gunjan fnu said...

Yes Absolutely right . It has both pros and cons as we can connect to world in some seconds but we don't know who is sitting next to us .