Thursday, November 20, 2008

How the internet is changing the world

Someone posted this question on a forum I frequent. It's interesting food for thought. Here's my response:

Ok. Just off the top of my head here's what I see as having potential societal impacts.


1. The pluralism of the West is intensified. We all grew up understanding that there were other people with other beliefs. But that reality is much more accessible and interactive to those outside urban areas. I think this pluralism is a force that breaks down traditional structures and institutions such as religion, constitutional government, marriage, education, patriotism, etc. As these break down new traditions will emerge. I have no idea what they will be.

2. Fundamental attitudes about what constitutes intelligence are emerging. In pre-enlightenment times intelligence was measured by ones ability to memorize. Information sources were rare, and those who could keep that information were praised as a result. Now we have the inverse. Information is everywhere and easily accessible. Memorization is rendered almost useless when cut/paste is available. Rather than narrow/deep specialization, broad/shallow apprehension will be revered. This will change the way we educate our kids and ourselves, and make us very dependent on our technological infrastructure.

3. The psycho-sexual makeup of men is changing. Access to hardcore and fetish pornography for teens and even pre-teens will shape our culture's attitudes towards sex and assumptions about gender roles and normalcy. I have no idea what the result of this will be.

4. Our language is evolving more rapidly than the historical norm. "leet speak" is a joke, but the impulse behind it is a real force that is shaping the way we communicate. No other language that I know of has placed such a large emphasis on shortcuts, acronym, abbreviation, slang and other non-formal additions. I think when you are young you see no reason to place any value in formality, tradition and the sacred. And this language shift is being driven by the young. As the computer culture ages they will find that they have undercut these psychological necessities of maturity and will either radically swing back the other way or find substitutes for them.


5. E-lationships. I just coined that, what do you think? When I hear news about JER or Fycus' life I feel like I'm getting updates about friends, not just random people from the internet. Why is this? A lot has been said about how the anonymity of the internet can unleash all sorts of character devolution. And that's certainly true. But another development is the sub-cultural tribal communities like BZ or Threadless. What it means to be a friend is evolving. What it means to know someone is evolving.


That's all I can think of for now. I'll post more if I think of any. I'm sure there are a hundred books on the subject, and I'm surprised I haven't read any of them.

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