Wednesday, May 28, 2008

Blaming the Internet

John C. Dvorak, recently wrote that everyone is losing perspective, in large part, because of the Internet. I found it hard to believe that someone as knowledgeable about technology would be so mislead as to fear it. He writes that there is a "decline in general perspective," which he defines "generalized or common knowledge." Further, this is due to the explosion of the Internet contributing bloggers, podcasts, etc. Mr. Dvorak leads us to believe that because of the Internet, people only read the news they want to read and fail to get a general, standard perspective.

However, there are a few problems with this theory. First, at no time was there ever a general, standard perspective. Everyone has their own perspective, which may be similar to others' perspective, but is still wholly unique. The idea that there ever was a single, unique interpretation speaks of thought control (cue Pink Floyd... "Teacher leave them kids alone").

Second, how was this general perspective even decided? Majority vote? Nope. By a handful of "middle-aged white men [sitting] around a table in a room" (quote from Everything is Miscellaneous by David Weinberger). It's not general knowledge that Dvorak is begging to return, but the knowledge deemed important by a small group of people from a limited demography. Further, there has always been bias in reporting. It has only been recently that it has come to the spotlight. Despite Fox New's stance, there is no such thing as "fair and balanced" (ask any liberal). In fact, Mr. Dvorak's example of The New York Times is hardly bias-free (ask any conservative).

Mr. Dvorak believes that custom newspapers, which tailor to a reader's interests, makes people only read news they want. While this is potentially possible, newspapers have never exactly been a solution to this either. How many people read the newspaper from front to back, never missing an article? From experience, I can safely say that my Mom read the sports about as much as I read the Home and Garden section, which was... never!

Another cause for concern according to Mr. Dvorak is that those "gosh darn kids today" do not read newspapers and are the ones who really fail to get the "general perspective" (quotes are added to this from now on because the thought is complete rubbish). Maybe when Mr. Dvorak gets back from yelling at the kids to get off his lawn he'll ask himself a few questions such as:

How many kids where reading the newspaper before the Internet?
How many kids just read the sections that interested them (e.g., Sports, Comics, etc.)?
How many kids now have replaced reading those sections with similar sites on the Internet (e.g.,,,

Sadly, Mr. Dvorak gives no data on any of this or any of his other claims. The truth is that we have a wealth of resources available to us. True, some are fictitious and utter nonsense, but it is not like these viewpoints only came about with the rise of the Internet or blogs. There were idiots in the past, there are idiots now, and there will continue to be idiots in the future. The Internet is a medium and nothing more. In fact, I couldn't be happier that these people have found a medium on the Internet because I can now board a plane without being harassed.

I think that Mr. Dvorak assumes that a newspaper is akin to an Encyclopedia, but again, even an Encyclopedia may have an implicit bias. As Mr. Weinberger points out in Everything is Miscellaneous, the wisdom of the crowds as lead to a truly consensus view (e.g., Wikipedia). Further, Mr. Weinberger states that one can actually view the degree to which consensus has been reached by looking at the history of pages. This allows for one to see if the post is new, is being changed a lot, or has settled into a stable state (i.e., consensus has been reached).

I am not really sure if it was Mr. Dvorak's hope of looking like someone who is afraid of technology or someone who is nostalgic for the "old ways," but he succeeded in both. The true cause of the decline in traditional media is that it is too static and mankind has evolved. Simply put, traditional media is just not enough anymore and is no longer a "good thing".

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