No, it didn’t.
It changed it.
While these prophets of darkness present several valid points about how the web impacted our word consumption, I would like to humbly propose it’s not that bad.
Note: this rather long article contains my opinion on the print v. web debate in reference to reading and writing. Feel free to disagree.
Our electronic environment actually offers us ways to improve and evolve our understanding of media, reading, writing and editing. True, we have the option to skim a thousand senseless entries about People of WalMart or Perez Hilton or the delightful time drain that is Imgur, but I would wager many of us occasionally depart these sites and ingest some news or culture items we might not pick up in hard copy.
I would contend that, while our consumption of trash has increased, so has our consumption of other uses of the written word. Sure, you might merely be skimming a dozen headlines on Yahoo! News in between meetings, but if we time-traveled backward twenty years, would you really be using that time to read the newspaper in detail?
Interspersed with the trash are a few gems I think we should at least acknowledge; it is often too easy to vilify a new technology and lay blame for the ills of society on a newcomer to the party.
The flexibility of this new medium of expression has opened the doors to not only the spread of trash – but the spread of culture. Highly specialized interests that before would not have garnered an audience of a sufficient size to warrant publication can now be shared across oceans.
What you choose to cull from the wealth of information available is up to you.
Yep. Some blogs are total propaganda. Some purposefully skew facts. Some are just bad. The internet troll exists purely to – pardon my lack of grace – “screw up” someone else’s experience and understanding.
However, we can do the same in print. As a student of journalism, I think this new age of information accessibility is simply a reminder that you should always question your source – print, web or otherwise. Should I trust information more simply because it is printed on a page rather than a screen?
While some innate esteem can be granted to a work that has made it through an editor and publisher and into hard copy, not all publishers are agenda-free. At this point I would encourage everyone to take a step back and focus on the real issue: media literacy. No matter whether words are flashed on your iPhone or chiseled into the wall of a cave, their truth-value is not guaranteed.
It is, true, easier to plug a query into Google and pull up nonsense – but, in the same motion, you can check and cross-check the facts you receive. Your willingness to use the tools at hand determines the quality of information you find.
Now, anyone can log into WordPress, and, with a half-hour of effort, put together a page on any topic they please, including cute cat gifs.
This democratization of media allows authors to share their words with the world for valuable feedback, citizen journalists to report on issues they find relevant and an army of fashion and food bloggers to shape the season’s fads. In some circles, this exponential increase of content production detracts from the old, reliable, standby outlets for this type of information.
However, I believe the “good” ever-so-slightly outweighs the “bad” when the people are able to truly own and shape culture. These publications become social spaces where people gather and actively engage in a discussion of topics they find relevant.
I confess, I don’t always agree with what popular consensus dictates to be of importance, but the main positive factor remains that many minds are working as one to develop our new reality.
It’s easy to blame the technology, but perhaps we should also consider the external factors that mold the user.
About as different as the written word was from the days of spoken history, and as different as the printed word was from the written. See the timeline?
Most new technologies are greeted with some degree of trepidation, particularly when the consequences could ripple through academia. This, I agree, is not an unreasonable reaction.
However, what I think is most important to realize is that we do not possess any sort of crystal ball that allows us to know what the future of writing is “supposed” to look like. What if – and I use the idea of predestination loosely – we are meant to become a telepathic race that speaks in pictures and draws from a collective pool of memories so that we no longer require any sort of record-keeping apparatus?
Ridiculous, but stranger things have happened.
I’m not championing the web over print; I will always prefer a dusty, dog-eared paperback on a Sunday afternoon to the irritating load screen of a Kindle and the uncomfortable feeling that the pixels on my laptop are more like ants dancing across the screen.
Instead, I suggest we view the web as an entirely new, separate platform, more so than we seem to understand now. Too many newspapers, magazines, bloggers, journals and other publications attempt to move to web, only to set up shop in exactly the same rectangular, linear pattern as before.
With web, we can create new art objects: books that talk back, blogs that sing, research journals that weave together via links to create complex histories that lead to new research. The harbingers of doom are right: READING ON THE WEB IS DIFFERENT. But that’s ok; we shouldn’t treat it like print.
Our verbal imagination is no longer bound by the confines of a page. No, Google isn’t making us stupider. It’s just changing our understanding of how to present information. If we embrace the capabilities of the web, we create new forms of word art and open doors of creativity not available on a static, printed page.
Consider the difference between experiencing a PowerPoint and a Prezi: the latter, used imaginatively, holds endless possibilities for engaging, poignant and exciting presentations, integrating multimedia with ease. This doesn’t mean PowerPoint doesn’t have a time and place; the two platforms fulfill different roles for presentations.
Print and web, too, must fulfill different roles in order to coexist. Yes, we skim when online and don’t always read the most intellectual content. But perhaps our ideas of what the web is for are what need to be updated. The computer screen is not a sheet of paper, so it is unrealistic to expect to use it as one.
Change is hard, but we have an opportunity to reinvent the joy and dynamism of language using an incredibly versatile, adaptable technology.
In short, perhaps we should wage war on technology a little less fervently, and redirect that energy into finding ways to improve upon our use of that technology so we explore its full potential.