Steve J. Moore

The Ghost in the Machine: Dialogue on the Influence of the Internet

In Nature, Philosophy, The Web on February 4, 2009 at 3:14 pm

This post is from Nathaniel Carroll’s blog “NonDeScript” and is a collaborative conversation. If you have another blog and would like to join in let us know!

“Life imitates art far more than art imitates Life.” – Oscar Wilde

This week, an e-friend of mine, Steve J. Moore, proposed an interesting question: Does the Internet reflect Humanity or vice versa? To start the discussion, we will take a look at life before Internet. Then, we will examine the life after Internet and its impact on the individual.

Information is power
Nikola Tesla began tinkering with the wireless transmission of information in 1891. The first television broadcasts were transmitted in 1928 to mechanical tv sets with horrible picture quality. In the mid thirties to the beginning of the forties, mechanical sets were commercially available for home use, but production soon stopped as manufacturing efforts became focused on World War II. After the war, the technological boom began to pick up speed again. The first full-color set came in 1954 and cost $1,000.  Today, one thousand bucks buys you a 50″ flat screen tv like this.

Figure 1.1

Figure 1.1

There seems to be an inverse correlation between the availability of information and its value (see Figure 1.1).  In other words, the easier accessing information becomes, the less we are willing to pay for it.  To learn more about this correlation, read Thomas L. Friedman’s book, The World is Flat.  The expansive virtual bank of knowledge has made the world seem much smaller.  Thanks to Mobile 2.0, we expect information to be readily available to us at all times, to the extent that even email is considered an inferior form of communication.  I drew Figure 1.1, photographed it with my phone, sent it to my email address, and uploaded it to the blog in less than one minute.  We want information now, and we want it to be free.

The Shape of (Human) Things
I am twenty three years old.  My first vivid memory involves my father busily working on a thesis under the blue glow of a Tandy 1000 computer screen, my curious finger, and a large red reset button (I’ll post the whole story sometime).  The internet, in a relatively archaic form, already existed.  But even in my youth, when I wanted information for an Earth Science research paper on volcanoes I made photocopies of encyclopedia entries in the school library.  The card catalog was not computerized until I was in high school.  Back in my day, you had to be patient – you had to wait for information to come to you.  Back in my day, you had to be dilligent – you had to spend countless hours scouring tiny print and irrelevant factoids in search of answers.  Back in my day, you had to respect the information you sought.

Today, the quality of content published on the internet spreads from precise, powerful information to pure unsolicited crap.  Because the good stuff can be accessed through the same medium as the bad, it has to be free and effortless.

With regard to the value we assign information, I say that Internet reflects Humanity.  Internet – 1, Humanity – 0.

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  1. My vote goes to the Internet reflecting Humanity. I thought it was interesting how you referred to @stevejmoore as an e-friend though. That says a lot in itself.

  2. Nathan: That’s a good catch: we no longer have to know people “IRL” thanks to the ease of communication the internet offers. You and I are also e-friends (have we met IRL?).

  3. The internet is really a failure compared to what it was supposed to be. It relays information much faster than ever but this information is raw data. I was part of every computer generation and all data was considered to be raw data until verified. Tab cards wer units of information with each being able to verified easily. In the most successful time in our history, millions of tab cards ran our many industries. When data began to be merged and centralized, the quality of the data degraded.
    The internet was supposed to a core of learning and a classroom but it still is waiting to reach this stage.

    All in all the world was better off without it and we transmitted information very fast with the telegraph machines all over the world.

    The internet certainly has a terrible record so far as to its part in our economy. Our economy prospered before it came and the best economic times were during the startup of mainframes. After that everything seems to degrade. For more see http://tapsearch.com/tapartnews and http://tapsearch.com/flatworld where Ray Tapajna explores the lost worlds in the Globalist Free Trade Flat World

  4. @aboyandhispiano you know…I’ve been to the Moxie a bunch and I hang/hung out with the #sgf film crowd a lot. We may have met. I think…yeah I’d bed that we have met at least once IRL. Especially if you know Ed Moore (http://edmostrangelove.wordpress.com) or Caleb Copeland (http://www.calebcopeland.com)

  5. Steve: I bet so. I used to work at the Moxie. That makes us just plain friends, then.

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