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My love-hate relationship with the internet

I love how the internet allows anyone to quickly publish anything they
want for anyone to read.

I hate how the internet allows anyone to quickly publish anything they
want for anyone to read.

When the internet first started being readily available, in the early
'90s, it took some effort to put content onto the internet. Even then,
when I was in high school, we were told that things were not
necessarily accurate just because they were on the internet, and we
were cautioned to make sure the sites listed the name of some sort of
reputable sponsor and cited the sources of their information. In other
words, we were not supposed to view information on the internet as
being as authoritative as, say, encyclopedias. Still, to me, the
internet in the early '90s felt about like periodicals as a type of
media -- anyone could publish information and was not subject to major
editorial scrutiny like authors of an encyclopedia were, but the
information was at least something that someone had bothered to pay to
have published.

A few years later, the internet began to have a feel that was more
like flyers being handed out at an event. People had either taken the
time to learn how to put up pages or they had paid someone to do so.
The information was about equally divided between information put out
by reputable professional organizations and information that someone
had just decided needed to be disseminated.

The internet today feels less like it has any analogous print form.

Some of the information available still feels much like print
information. Just about every professional organization has a large
website, with most of them being pretty impressive. For a lot of
people in certain demographic groups, the internet has become the way
to find information. I can't remember the last time I used a phone
book to find a business that did what I want. Or the last time I poked
around for brochures somewhere. In fact, I'm a professional writer,
and I don't currently own a dictionary. There are several online,
complete with usage notes and everything, so I see no point in having
a print one. I vaguely remember when I would go to a library or
bookstore if I needed a book about finance or home improvement or
something. Not anymore. Don't get me wrong; I still read a lot of
books and plan to continue to do so. But for general information, it
seems archaic.

The part of the internet that's unique is when it becomes a forum for,
well, conversations in print. Software has now gotten to the point
where it's incredibly easy to post information onto a webpage, and so
people can have discussions with each other as easily as they can in
person. This is done with instant messengers, on chat forums, in
guestbooks, and on weblogs. I enjoy this part of the internet very
much, as I like to talk with my friends and family all over the world.
I also wouldn't likely go out in the community and find someone who
knows about a particular topic that's just a passing interest, but I
frequently do so on the internet.

When the internet becomes really, well, weird is when people merge the
conversational aspect with the publishing aspect. The peculiar aspect
of the internet is that the conversations people have in blogs and on
many types of forums are preserved in print as if they were something
that had been written and published. Internet discussions are no
different from internet news articles in terms of their both being on
webpages and available for the quoting. The difference though is
intention.

The other day, I engaged in a casual discussion about a proposed local
tax. This discussion was no different than the ones I have around the
watercooler or down at the bar on the corner, except for the fact it
was in print. The next day, I found that my discussion had been quoted
by a notable Boston blogger
. While the article did include a link
back to the original discussion for anyone who bothered to follow it,
it had been quoted and included in an article and presented as if the
quotes were from a published article rather than from a casual
discussion. My off-the-top-of-my-head opinions -- completely devoid of
the statistics, logical organization, counterpoint, and, oh, complete
sentences that I include in my actual writing -- were included in this
article and naturally ripped apart. There was even a link to my
personal homepage, which links to some of my published writing and
some of my professional affiliations, making it seem even more as if
this had been something I had written and published, rather than just
something I'd spouted off on an internet forum.

This is the type of thing I really hate about the internet. Obviously,
anything we post on the internet is just like anything we say in
public -- it can be used and abused by anyone who feels like it. The
important part though is context. People in general who read things on
the internet or anywhere else don't do much critical thinking,
unfortunately. Yes, someone could easily poke around and see that the
aforementioned text was from a discussion board, not from an article,
and could take it for what it was -- opinionated drivel -- and realize
that it wasn't in any way meant to represent a professional analysis
of the situation. But who's going to do that? Not most people. In
fact, there are people who think that some of us, for whatever reason,
aren't entitled to the freedom to bullshit with our friends. On
another internet forum a few months ago, I had someone threaten to go
after my mental health credentials because this person insisted that
since I freely express opinions of people I interact with on my own
time and who have come to warrant this, this must mean that I abuse
people in my professional life.

I guess what it comes down to is that the internet is just, well, a
mirror of society. Some people think, most people don't, and if
someone wants to, they can use the fact that most people don't think
as a way to "prove" anything they choose.

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Comments

I'd love to read the rest, but I can't find anything after, "I found that my discussion had been...."

Maybe this is operator error on my part, because the trackback ping worked.

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eeka,
was there more? it seems to cut off at "discussion had been...."

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Adam said that it wouldn't cut off if I used a little tag thingy. It still did.

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It's too bad it cut off. I have a feeling you were just getting to the good part.

Oh, and, the comments take a while to appear - which I just noticed.

CP

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Somebody (not that I'm naming names or anything) made a mistake with the a href stuff and that cut off everything after the link.

Sorry about that (the mistake wouldn't have happened had I a: put the WYSIWYG editor back and b: fixed the one problem it had) and also for the delay in comments showing up. They should show up right away, but I'm still dealing with the aftereffects of the Scumsucking Spammer from Hell, the one whose comments made the spam filter think *everything* is spam, so I'm still having to hand-approve comments that should go up right away.

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:o)

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