Can We Please Take a Break from Blaming the Internet?

  • Share
  • Read Later

In an op-ed in the Guardian on Sunday, writer and editor Robert Levine makes the case that the internet “has all but destroyed the market for films, music and newspapers.” It’s a question we’ve encountered many times before. Here’s the crux of the argument, which states that the internet has diminished the value of traditional content creation, and thus culture overall:

Over the past decade, much of the value created by music, films, and newspapers has benefited other companies – pirates and respected technology firms alike. The Pirate Bay website made money by illegally offering major-label albums, even as music sales declined to less than half of what they were 10 years ago. YouTube used clips from shows such as NBC’s Saturday Night Live to build a business that Google bought for $1.65bn. And the Huffington Post became one of the most popular news sites online largely by rewriting newspaper articles.

As you can imagine, there’s some lively discussion occurring in the post’s comments.

(MORE: NYPD to Scour Facebook and Twitter For Evidence of Crimes)

Meanwhile, in an article from Friday’s online edition of the New York Times by Neal Gabler tackles the internet from a slightly different angle, offering that social media has displaced “thinking” with a thought economy predicated on a currency of “knowing.” Here, the internet’s supposedly to blame for making us less able to think on a deeper, more humanist level.

Here’s a key bit:

“[S]ocial networking sites are the primary form of communication among young people, and they are supplanting print, which is where ideas have typically gestated. For another, social networking sites engender habits of mind that are inimical to the kind of deliberate discourses that gives to rise to ideas. Instead of theories, hypotheses and grand arguments, we get instant 140-character tweets about eating a sandwich or watching a TV show.”

Both are interesting pieces worth reading in their entireties, but they’re both arguments we’ve heard before. For some, they may even be a bit difficult to properly digest, especially when you consider the medium by which eyes are likely to find and read them.

article continues on next page…

Perhaps it’s the lamentative tone these types of op-eds always seem to take when they mourn “how things used to be” that raises a reader’s guard, making them quicker to criticize rather than consider.

At a particular point in his essay, Gabler theorizes that “brief, unsupported opinions or brief descriptions of your own prosaic activities,” such as on Twitter, are “a form of distraction or anti-thinking.”

Sound familiar?

Here, I’d argue that discourse on any level, however un-elevated or non-academic, is infinitely more valuable than no discourse at all. It recalls an idiom fully worth repeating here: “Simple ideas are typically the best.”

And simple ideas, I think, are the easiest to overlook, and never really seemed birthed from the minds of our brightest thinkers; rather, they’re sentiments already held by the crowd, developed on an innate level of human empathy. (Take a look, for instance, at how Norway reacted to recent terrorist attacks, or how Britons are taking up brooms to fight the riots. How’d they do it? The internet.)

(MORE: How Big Is the Internet? (Spoiler: Not As Big As It’ll Be in 2015))

I think staunch new media defender Zeynep Tufekci said it best here in response to Gabler’s column: “What isolates people is TV, suburbanization, long-commutes, increasing working hours, mandatory two-income families… Not social media.”

Of course, her idea was said in a tweet that was re-shared 100+ times.

So for the sake of the discourse itself, I feel as though we should take a break for a bit from blaming the internet for all the things wrong with our culture. They’re questions fully worth considering, but for the time being they’re all blurred together as tired rehashings, causing very valid points to get lost.

But that’s enough from me. More and most importantly: What do you think?

Chris Gayomali is a reporter at TIME. Find him on Twitter at @chrigz, on Facebook, or on Google+. You can also continue the discussion on TIME’s Facebook page and on Twitter at @TIME.

  1. Previous
  2. 1
  3. 2