The Internet has brought a hasty alteration to the chronicle of man's search for information. We seem to think the Internet, the I-Pod, the I-phone, and the other "Eyes of the Future" will bring about a new Age of Enlightenment with all the wisdom and artistry of mankind instantly available at everyone's fingertips. But, may I dare suggest that we may be drowning in information; the dam has burst and we are being swept by the deluge into a new Dark Age. A new age of ignorance, superstition and, if we're not careful, a society who is simply indifferent to truth.
In the Dark ages - which began with barbarians driving Roman civilization from Europe and ended with the Medieval awakening (Martin Luther, etc.), the Italian Renaissance and the Gutenberg Revolution - long nights were filled with gossip, rumor, storytelling, and idle fancies flowing into a fact-impoverished world . . .
The Internet is flooded with gossip, rumor, celebrity tales, and slants which drown out the trickle of actual truth. The Internet can tell us anything we want to know with a Googly glance. We no longer need seek out and read a book to learn; we need only power a search engine with a few words, even when they're spelt inkorekly. Most of our Internet searches end on sites which are as objective as a list on a barroom menu, and often as fully fact-checked as a diatribe, but which has all but replaced studiously researched encyclopedias.
Information is not the same thing as fact. But we've lost the distinction. We now uncritically accept all information as truth. When a fleetingly celebrated author invented a mythical society, the Priory of Sion, Google; was filled with thousands of references to its history, organization, famous leaders, and its lost, hidden or church-burned documents - none of which were true. Thus, if it's hot on the Internet, we uncritically accept the fad of the moment. A growing number of us drink water from plastic bottles Pepsi; and Coke; fill from New York water faucets - we prefer
this commodity water over the water coming out of those same faucets because we've been warned that non-toilet trained Catskill fish swam in it.
In the Dark Ages, the upheavals from wars and barbarian invasions eroded education and the common knowledge of skills and arts, which were preserved only in a few places such as monasteries . . .
We accept the flood of information uncritically because we're no longer trained to use our minds. In ancient days, one was expected to listen to and retain a million words for instant recitation. Then, the Greeks and Romans, and their latter-day Renaissance counterparts, couched their minions to read the written word, rather than listen to some minstrel song, like those from the likes of Homer. But at least education in readin', 'ritin' and 'rithmetic were still considered a necessity as ways of training the mind to think.
Now, when hand calculators instantly answer the most complicated A/S/M/D m'lange conceivable and multiplication tables are no longer necessary, memory can be used for better things like celebrity gossip, Myspace and email addresses. Why bother anyway? Sex ed and personal development are the real needs!
We're losing our leisure skills. Western society brags about the prosperity brought to it by technological breakthroughs while disregarding their social side-effects. These unintended consequences began with Scotland inventing the Industrial Revolution, thereby causing labor to move from farms to mines and mills. Then the phonograph brought music into every house-bound ear, inducing parents and children, who once learned and played instruments at home amusing themselves in neighborly song feasts, amateur combos, quartets and pickup bands to just sit and listen to the parlor Victrola. Thus, listening replaced performing.
Radio brought entertainment and the world to the livingroom, so that neighbors and relatives who had once gathered to chat and tell stories sat quietly in front of talking boxes. And why bother to read - listening is easier and cheaper anyway. In passing, I ought to state that free radio brought along with it, free radio ads - provoking family and friends to purchase Wheaties, Ovaltine, Pespi, Ivory soap, Tide and Lux.
Then came television, magically materializing scenes and details that could only be imagined while listening to the radio - so imagination was left to Castles in Spain daydream time. Then there were movies - but why drive to theaters when you can watch a movie on TV or download it from the Internet. And what little reading we now do is confined to TV schedules, movie timetables, and magazines and books about the doings of politicians and celebrities whom TeeVee made infamous. Or we try to dig up the real dirt about those celebrities on - yes - the Internet.
We used to go to concerts. Now, enabled by dial-up and broadband to download any music onto a computer (no matter how small), music is more easily heard using good earphones than by motoring through downtown traffic to Symphony Hall to look three tiers down at a hundred seated people chugging away! Symphonies are declining everywhere while motion-dominant Opera thrives: another victory for "look over listen".
We used to participate in sports. Then, TV began gobbling up our remaining free time. We were once devoted to stickball, stoopball, roller-skating and burying treasure in empty lots. Now we're consecrated to watching professional sports on TV or simulating them in computer games. Even the most basic physical activities of our ancestors (walking or horseback, etc.) have been obliterated by the automobile - which at least provides some arm and right-foot exercise. But even that exertion will soon be replaced by telecommuting and online shopping. We are becoming a nation of couch and console potatoes.
The upheavals of the Dark Ages so restricted travel that most people lived in isolated villages, unknowing and unconcerned with great issues and preoccupied with the trivia of daily life . . .
Email instantly and cheaply sends our "just-thought-ofs" to your computer list. We no longer need to waste time writing down and thinking about what you're going to say. We don't even have to worry about spelling (nor own a dictionary anymore): any email maven can correct spelling (never information or syntax) errors. Messages need not be composed with pith, wit, personality or any particular intent. They need only be laboriously typed without a syntactical glance and sent out quickstep. On hearing "You've got mail!" most such free-from-thinking machinations are scanned with deserved dispatch and deleted. Inadvertently we have also deleted from our lives the joys and treasures of personal correspondence - treasured emails lie in the category of seashore sand castles; they're washed away with the next tide. Autographed signatures at the bottom of cherished letters have been replaced by the scrawls of accidental pop-star heroes on baseballs or promotional photographs.
Cell phones provide instantaneous communiqué to wherever a whomever happens to be. One often talks the instant a name pops into one's head so that chatting takes the place of time-wasting speculation about work, family, church or country.
In being preoccupied with trivia, we're only imitating our masters in the entertainment world. With the triumph of FX and morphing, movies and TV shows have lost what little literacy they ever had. Dialogue movies are beginning to disappear; "slash and bash" becoming Hollywood's latest sacred cash-cow. On TV, CSIs multiple second-long quick cuts, as well as, unscripted "Que Sera, Sera" reality shows are replacing slow-moving situation comedies, mysteries, musicals and adventure yarns. Modern talkies - and now TV - contain fewer words than silent films once showed on their title cards.
Needless to say, the Internet encourages, and amplifies this trend toward triviality: digits ranging through digitized agendas instead of eyes scanning a better known analog world; ear-splitting sounds rather than script-advancing dialogue; dramatic eye-confounding screen switches instead of stage play continuity. Game buttons, Cable remotes, and Internet clicking have trained us to hop, skip, and jump - rather than slowly turn pages in our easy chair.
And so, the Internet has induced society to scorch its path from see-read-listen-remember-digest into scan and flip, thereby replacing judgment with opinion, objective reasoning with subjective impression, and common sense with consensus. We are thus becoming perfect little lemmings, easily stampeded by marketers, fad creators, propagandists, and politicians with hidden agendas.
Is our culture navigating the circle back to where darkness lies waiting for us? Is our modern path freeing us from thought - while letting in a new horde of barbarians, the Superficials, to open our gates to a New Dark Age?
With easy-access now on cell phones and soon, perhaps, via a chip implanted into our cortexes or spines, this next fifty years is going to get very interesting (in the Chinese sense) unless the world ends first - or until something or Someone more meaningful comes along.