The gift-scourge of the Internet

posted by Jeff | Monday, May 4, 2020, 9:00 PM | comments: 0

I was catching up with someone the other day about life and career, and talked a bit about how I left the broadcast world for the Internet, observing at the time that "it might catch on." Of course I knew it would, I was just being sarcastic. The late 90's were really exciting when it came to the potential for the Internet, even with the promise of ubiquitous connectivity still a decade away. The Internet has changed my life and given me an opportunity to self-publish media, produced as a hobby, while lighting up a career path I literally could not have imagined in college because it didn't exist.

That optimism around the turn of the century was electric. Entirely new markets and opportunities were being created. You could create software and media and theoretically be on equal footing with giant companies. For the most part, all of this potential was realized, and the ubiquitous connectivity fundamentally changed how we viewed software.

The optimist in me assumed that humans were curious and anxious to learn, and that having the world's information available at your fingertips was a big deal. So much of what was out there in the late 90's was already academic and scientific. Unfortunately, this ability to equalize the distribution of information had a side effect: It showed that many people aren't interested in deeper understanding of anything, and the more accessible a medium is, the more noise there is. Think about how the bar moved for the quality and distribution of information with each technology:

  • The printing press: Type setting started out slow, and pressing a book was laborious. Only the most important things were prioritized for publication, and the reach was still limited.
  • Automated printing presses: Distribution improved, but there was a still a limitation to the volume of information.
  • Radio: Distribution is suddenly instantaneous, wide and free to anyone with a radio. While there are 24 hours to broadcast, listening habits are centered on evenings, and the limits to spectrum means there are only so many radio stations. There is still a limitation on information volume, but it's better than print alone.
  • Television: TV has the same limitations as radio, but the engagement rate gets higher as a prominent part of most families' evening. There are only three major networks though, and again, broadcast licenses are limited.
  • Cable TV: The number of accessible channels increases at first to a few dozen, and over time rises to hundreds of choices. Now there are networks for every niche. Quality of content, and respect for facts, starts to go down, though broadcast news at least holds on as an authority of information, limited as it might be.
  • The commercial Internet: All bets are off. There is literally no limit or restriction to the volume or quality of information, and it's even more difficult to qualify fact from fiction. In fact, people are willing to just seek what they agree with, and the transition from getting information that you need to information that you want, essentially entertainment, is complete.

It's one of those things I suppose, where you take the good with the bad. The net improvement I think is positive, I just wish people wouldn't take it for granted, and think more critically.


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