Medium And Message by Caleb Eatough

Separated and alone. The only company, the whisper of one’s thoughts. No images flashing before the eyes, no music dancing inside the brain. The only source of knowledge contained in words on the dusty pages of an old, battered book. The rustle and sway of the habit as the scribe copied word by painstaking word. Such was the beginning of widespread rational discourse on the nature of God and man.
There is a gap between the kind of reading one does today and the reading in centuries past. Information, once so hard to come by, has become instantly accessible. Once so precious, it now overwhelms, cascading where it once trickled. The change in medium from books to the Internet has changed the way one receives the information, and culture has changed as a result.
Why does one read Plato, instead of listening to him aloud or watching him on C-SPAN? There is no interactive content in a book, just the reader and author. The internet, on the other hand, is full of pictures, videos, words, and games. Thousands of distractions—Facebook, Wikipedia, YouTube—beg for the last vestiges of the modern attention span. If something doesn’t catch the consumer’s attention within a few seconds, he moves on to something that will. This is the “sound-byte” phenomenon. The internet condenses everything into an easily digestible pieces—shallow thoughts at best. Where St. Augustine plumbed deep waters, the internet rests on the surface and then flits away.
These shallow statements often take the form of memes, humorous snap statements with minimal thought content. Consider Godwin’s Law: As an online discussion grows longer, the probability of a comparison involving Nazis or Hitler approaches 100%. Not exactly the kind of environment that encourages deep discussion.
Wikipedia is another good example. It is an encyclopedia, but any page is editable, be it by expert or Scumbag Steve. Subject to public opinions and biases, it is more a reflection of what the world thinks about a topic than what experts do. While its makers strive to keep the website as informative as possible, Wikipedia is subject to the very culture it contributes to. Unfortunately, “The Free Encyclopedia” has replaced primary sources as the basis of knowledge, populating the internet with pseudo-intellectuals who think they know everything about a subject.
The internet is both anonymous and public. The way a person presents himself on the Internet is malleable, meant for entertainment rather than strictly accurate representation. A Facebook status is for others; a diary is for oneself. Some dishonesty is involved, both of others and of self. The internet: Where men are men, women are men, and little girls are FBI agents. Why would one want to break the carefully crafted façade of vanity and pride to debate the deep questions?
On Facebook, the sole motive for posting something is for others to see it, changing one’s public face even while away from the computer. Coupled with the sound-byte phenomenon, one’s identity shrinks down into what one can say in a sentence. It is a constant thirst for attention rather than genuine personality.
Facebook is a public diary. Those who do not want their self-image tarnished edit what they post; embarrassing photos will haunt the less discriminating for decades. Good and bad consequences abound. Facebook is the greatest source of public personal information ever compiled, and it is accessible to everyone.
The internet is harmless taken in small doses. No one can deny it has been a boon to civilization. Like another great invention, the wheel, it has greatly changed human culture and environment. But a wheel is a wheel. No one spends hours looking at a wheel. Why do people dedicate their lives to the latest Kardashian scandal with Aristotle’s Nicomachean Ethics a fingertip away?
The Internet is a tool, but it is a tool that shapes the user in its use. When one immerses oneself in this culture, it changes the way one thinks, just as books have done for centuries. The medium affects the message. Reading a book, be it Plato or Seuss, one must engage meaningfully with the text. The author encourages the reader to ruminate about what is written. The Internet is an endless cascade of information that can only be sampled with indiscriminate sweeps. Readers can stop and think, seeking beauty in nuance.
The Internet is no vessel of beauty. It is mere argument, not debate. People, instead of enlightening themselves, lord their pseudo-intellectualism over the
poor, foolish masses. Their arguments end with either a meme or Godwin’s Law, not a rational synthesis of ideas.
Hope remains, despite this massacre of thought. The solutions are simple, but difficult to implement. When dependence on the internet becomes mere convenience, half the battle has been won. Abstinence brings rationality; the antithesis of instant gratification. Weaning oneself from the magic box yields perspective. White noise becomes silence, which gives way to the music of thought.
Educating children away from dependence is the other half. Children must read, play, and think without distraction; learning the beauty of nature and solitude so they can be their own people, instead of what others want them to be. When they can think for themselves, then they will be ready to combat Godwin’s Law.
The internet is an expedient—truth is truth, no matter the medium—but medium affects message, and the web will never replace the book. If people treat it as they ought, it may someday become as beautiful as the printed word.

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