Friday, April 26, 2013

The Computer/Internet: Have They Aided the Common Man?

Part of the quote from Postman's book that Donnelly starts out our take-home final with reads:

"Until, years from now, when it will be noticed that the massive collection and speed-of-light retrieval of data have been of great value to large scale organizations but have solved very little of importance to most people and have created at least as many problems for them as they may have solved."  (pg. 161)

I found it amazing, when giving this quote a second read through, that Postman would really think that the computer and internet would be of little or no real use to the individual.  It seems to me that, though the "speed-of-light retrieval" provides us with much information we do not need, causing "irrelevance," "impotence," and "incoherence," it also provides us with a multitude of information that we use to improve ourselves as people.  While learning about what is going on in Africa may not provide directly useful information that pertains to our daily lives, it gives us a scope through which to view the world, and not only our little corner of it.  Postman argues that having access to such information makes us feel obligated to engage in it, keep ourselves always updated, etc., and therefore causes us to become obsessed with meaningless information.  I think this may be true for some, but not for all, and should not be for any.  Succumbing to this obligation is the fault of the individual.

Also, I don't think it would be wise to overlook the impact that the internet has made on our schooling.  The amount of access we have to information: journals, news articles, professional papers, makes our education infinitely more rounded, and our papers more in depth.

I believe that any one person who is not deriving knowledge and furthering himself through his access to the internet own the fault for that failure.  The internet provides us with junk, and it provides us with gold.  It is our choice which to mine.


  1. I agree with what you have to say here. It all depends on the individual. The internet is a source of limitless information, which means that we have the ability to learn about whatever we think to type. Postman seems to think that everyone with this ability will misuse it on celebrity gossip and pictures of cats, or even worse, on information about other countries or cultures that could expand ones perspective.

    I've always disagreed with Postman in this regard. It's all about what the individual chooses to do with their free time. To ignore the internets social and educational potential in order to focus on such a negative is short sighted and a waste of time. This is not to say that these negatives don't exist, but only that they are far outweighed by the positives that come with internet access.

    In order to change Mr. Postman's opinion, practical and proper use of the internet needs to become the norm. Hopefully, as society grows more and more technically advanced, a deeper emphasis is put on digital literacy.

  2. I actually agree with Postman here because I do think that the Internet's impact on creating more efficient public discourse is overrated. To me the Internet is best used for practical means like looking up directions and contact information. But when it comes to creating a better functioning society, it falters. I would argue that easy access to information actually encourages passivity, rather than social action, because it changes the perception of what social action and knowledge really are. Blogging about a social cause is not the same as pounding the pavement or reaching out to the lawmakers, but I fear that the Internet has convinced us that these two actions are similar. In other words, the Internet simply gives us a portal to complain, but does not allow us to achieve anything. To achieve something we still have to leave our computer desks. And for a lot of people, leaving their computer desks is not easy.

  3. I think you both bring up valid arguments. Derek, I definitely see what you mean when you talk about how the internet increases passivity. Tying into your other blog post about anonymity, people seem to prefer to stay nameless and just offer some commentary from the safety and comfort of their couch instead of actively engaging with others for and against their cause or belief with the intent of creating change.

    One thing I want to bring up that is interesting with the state of the internet as a speed of light data source is something that a friend told me about. He had read one of Postman's other novels regarding the history of technology, and for that class they also found a study that proposed that our current society has the worst collective memory we have ever had in regards to storing information, yet we have the most readily accessible amounts of information ever.

    This seems to fit our society in my opinion, and I don't think it is necessarily a bad thing but instead is something positive that the internet provides. However, I do acknowledge that looking at things that way could be used as an excuse by some to not learn anything but simply "google it" when they need to. Clearly learning is still valuable, but it is kind of nice not having to commit to memory the information I'm interested in.

  4. I look at this as Postman asking that what good is random unconnected knowledge when you could have vast knowledge in one subject. I somewhat agree with Postman, because I feel there is more junk on the internet than there could ever be on TV, exposing us to a lot more irrelevant small bits of information. Therefore, there is more to filter through. I agree with Derek that the internet is best for practical uses. I think it makes life really easy for us, making us super lazy. For example, we do not even have to create citations anymore for research papers. The internet can do it for us! Overall, I think the internet is more of a distraction and waste of time than help to our society.

  5. While I’m inclined to agree with Postman when he contests what he describes as “the central thesis of computer technology,” I also think it may be a tad short-sighted, and perhaps dangerously so. First, let’s face it; there’s more information out there than we as individuals will ever know what to do with, especially on the internet. In this regard I agree with Postman. But there is also a lot of information on the internet that we as individuals could find beneficial, while keeping in mind that every individual is different and will therefore find uses in vastly different pieces of information. I think this fact may somewhat justify the seemingly boundless vats of information thrown on the internet and Postman’s description of the central thesis of computer technology. What one may discard as useless information, another may find real use out of—one person’s trash is another person’s treasure, so to speak. With this in mind I think it’s important to ask ourselves 3 questions before dismissing a piece of information on the internet: Can I find use out of this? Can someone else? Do I know that for sure? Lastly I’d just like to add the peculiarity in Postman recognizing the benefits the internet provides “large scale organizations.” What is an organization if not just a collection of individuals? Can we really separate one from the other?

  6. I'd have to say that the internet can be so much more than just for practical uses. Like I mentioned in another comment, public discourse on social media fueled and helped organize protests during the Arab Spring, which definitely has impacted the social course of the Middle East and Northern Africa. Governments like China work diligently to suppress online public discourse and bans both Facebook and Twitter.

    Websites and social media like Facebook and Twitter that we might see as frivolous here in the United States can give power to people that have no other way to organize, collaborate, and just talk about injustices that they might be suffering.

    The internet also helps even out those means of production, a la Marx. Websites like Kickstarter and Etsy allow anyone with a product or an idea to get funding for or sell their stuff. This is great in that product creation is not limited to those with huge sums of money or large corporations, and encourages economic growth.

    To sum it up, I really think that the internet provides more than it takes away. It is a powerful tool for humans to use.

  7. I definitely feel like the internet does have both quantity and quality. There's just always that and between the two.

    I think that what Postman was saying was that the internet is creating a culture through which people are going to be obsessed with knowing of things, but not necessarily knowing about things...just as he discussed with his section not only on tv, but on the telegraph as well.

    I do feel that the internt really is useful, and should be viewed more often as a resource than as a hinderance on our communication. It has opened the door for people to network and for collaborations to take place that couldn't have occurred years ago.

    I think that the internet, as was discussed in another of my classes, gives way for people to organize in order to cause change and make things happen in a much more efficient manner. However, these communities are not always well thought out, and sometimes just becomes a mass of online argumentation and attack that doesn't really impact others in a positive way.

    I think the internet has the opportunity to help people get their works out there for an audience, can be viewed as purely entertainment, and can have a really negative reality (cyberbullying, etc) as well. It is, like others have pointed out, the responsibility of the user to make the most of it.