Ideas. The sharing of ideas is what the Internet is about, more than anything. Nothing we have invented since Television has so grabbed the public’s imagination. Most young people have no knowledge of the euphoria that accompanied T.V.’s success in the early days. I remember the first T.V. set my family ever owned. For weeks, neighbors came over just to watch.
I remember, too, the many successes of early programming that led so many intellectuals to gush over the new, enlightened, educated and informed public that would naturally evolve as a consequence T.V.’s power to communicate with the masses in brand new ways. Shows like The College Bowl (an intellectual contest between college teams conducted very much like a sporting event), American Playhouse, The Sunday Symphony performances under Leonard Bernstein (I forget now which one it was), etc., etc. Even the early game shows like To Tell The Truth and “I’ve Got a Secret had an intellectual bent which is now virtually unknown, often driven more by the stimulating banter of the panel than the showy glitz of contestants with superpowers of recall and instant button pushing reflexes.
Of course, this is a bit like having me critique broadcasts of spectator sports: I gave them up years ago, even before retreating from T.V. altogether. Who am I to say that “reality shows” are a crock?
Oh, what the Hell. They’re a crock. And so are most T.V. programs. Frequently the most popular are, in fact, the biggest crock. You don’t have to actually watch T.V. much to say that. Some things are just plain obvious.
So what if there are a few good shows, such as on PBS and the Discovery or History Channels? What difference does it make that there are popular shows that poke fun at politicians I love to see poked? There are more shows poking not nearly so innocuous fun at my side of the political spectrum. And what does “poking fun” have to do with it, anyway? Politics should be about issues, shouldn’t it? Jokes and slogans, even clever ones supporting my point of view, seem to me to be steps in the wrong direction.
Or what of it that there are some really positive developments such as C-SPAN? Only the most discerning viewer will succeed in benefitting from them without being trapped into junk viewing most of the time. Overall, the weight of the medium is entirely in the direction of “worse than a waste of time.”
But I digress. This particular rant was really intended to aim at trying to save the Internet. I got distracted by the similarity to the cusp T.V. crossed over in those early, heady days and the one on which the Internet now teeters. People are still wildly enthusiastic about the Net, and hold very high expectations for where it will go. Yet there are elements that are pulling it strongly to the dark side. So strongly that the average user can only resist by doing so aggressively. Well, I’m nothing if not aggressive, so here goes.
The Internet and the computer offer the potential of a new kind of economy: one of ideas. But it will not necessarily be so. They have also the potential of creating an economy of control, accelerating our already unfettered consumption, and promoting a culture of sloganeering. Privacy is already a thing of the past. Tracking personal choices–even movement–by utilizing chips in consumer products (Radio Frequency Identification Devices, or RFID’s) will shortly be possible as these devices become as common as t-shirts (assuming Wal-mart gets its way–which isn’t much of a stretch).
We see the negative possibilities daily as the exchange of ideas is reduced to the exchange of e-mail laden with the humorous sound bite (“joke” overstates it a bit, I think). Ominously, when this bizarre fixation with the “joke forward” is combined with political motives, for example the destruction of Bill Clinton, they can become viciously effective at forming public opinion. I find the proliferation of pornography and the “humorous” e-mail equally frightening, as they seem to me to be precisely the kind of thing that literally destroyed the potential of Television: the dumbing down of the medium.
I’m not ready to give up yet, though. Next time I’ll make some suggestions re how we might be able to make the forces of the bright side stronger. But time’s up, so I’ll leave you with this thought:
I do what I can.
It’s not much.
I know that.
I do everything I can.