The Medium is the Medium?

Here's David Brooks in today's New York Times

Right now, the literary world is better at encouraging this kind of identity. The Internet culture may produce better conversationalists, but the literary culture still produces better students.

It's better at distinguishing the important from the unimportant, and making the important more prestigious.

Perhaps that will change. Already, more "old-fashioned" outposts are opening up across the Web. It could be that the real debate will not be books versus the Internet but how to build an Internet counterculture that will better attract people to serious learning.

Do you agree?


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Isn't this a moot point, since Prince has declared that "The Internet's completely over"?

By CherryBomb (not verified) on 11 Jul 2010 #permalink

Literary culture has historically taken decades to divide the wheat from the chaff. An earthshaking book or a piece of gibbering nonsense will not necessarily be clearly identified in the New York Review of Books or the Amazon reviews. Literary culture also hangs onto the old -- in part because it is old and has been hung onto. Great books of one period, fiction or nonfiction, may become obsolete or meaningless to a later generation. Even Shakespeare will eventually become the curiosity that Greek plays are today.

I love books, but they play a different role than the internet. The internet is best as a repository of knowledge and locus of discussion.

By freelunch (not verified) on 09 Jul 2010 #permalink

Comparing literary culture to Internet culture is like comparing committee work with crowd sourcing. For certain things crowd sourcing will usually work better even if some get trampled, but the kind of directional creativity that smaller (and quirkier) groups of people manage does not happen as well in the big arena.

Plus, what freelunch said sounds right.

I don't agree so much, no. If I thought David Brooks had any use for serious learning (or science) other than cherry picked support for fatuous, ill informed sociological/political "theories" I might be more interested in his opinion.

What les said... and freelunch.

Mark Bauerlein poured forth the same thin gruel, and all of it overlooks history. Did humanity progress, stagnate or regress, when the Chinese "invented" writing? How about for the Sumerians and Babylonians and their funky numbering systems? (12? Who counts in 12's? 60? What are you going to divide into 60 pieces?!) Then there's those rebels the Phoenicians, who introduced alphabets to replace ideograms; did the languages of based on the latter collapse? Spring forward a few centuries and we see that when the printing press was developed, we suddenly became less interested in oral histories. (Sadly, No!) Wasn't radio supposed to kill newspapers, and TV bring the demise of radio?

Modes of communication change, and every change only adds to the discussion. Nothing is ever completely abandoned. Well except blogs, they are left to decay all the time, but that's a different story.

By Onkel Bob (not verified) on 09 Jul 2010 #permalink

I don't agree. I believe that the ways in which we look for information on the internet will change, but already, most of us are just hopping between a very small number of websites when surfing the web. It's actually pretty 'hard' to find new interesting stuff on the web that's worth following.
I only discovered SB via Pharyngula via a link on another site I regularly visit, or maybe it was through a search on the web for atheist minds. I don't actually remember.
Still, this means that islands of information are forming, and that most people remain on one such island, without looking around to others. So for truely being able to gather knowledge and information, we will need to change our behaviour when looking for it. Search engines will have to provide more diverse links, and we will have to click on stuff that doesn't sound interesting at first, but spending enough time on it before we dismiss it.
The internet is a fast world, where we - who just recently learned the possibilities of it - don't yet find our way and are craving for constant updates, constant information flow, like what we receive when watching television.
The internet though, will have to be used slower, more carefull, like a newspaper, where, sometimes, you read small articles with less interesting titles you would just ignore on the net.

It seems to me that Brooks' comments stem from a fundamental misunderstanding of what the Internet really is. It's not that it is a new medium up against books, TV, radio, etc, it is that the Internet is a medium that will ultimately encompass all of those other mediums. It won't necessarily replace them 100%, but all of the content offered on them can be offered on this new medium and with greater flexibility to the information consumer.

And even if I am not correct on that, it doesn't matter. Brooks is speaking far too early - we just don't really have any idea how far and where the Internet is going to go yet. It's in its adolescence at most, and has many years ahead to evolve and adapt to a rapidly changing society.

Probably worth making a distinction between the Internet and Web, as John Brockman did on Edge earlier this year.

... I once heard Walt Mossberg say that we will know that the Internet has reached its potential when we stop talking about it, like electricity.

It's kind of like saying, there are books, then there is the library, and books are better at being books than the library is.

That is, books and the conversations and the whatnot all happen in the library - you just need to look for it.

basically, I agree... the internet is still in its prolonged infancy and 'wild wild west' stage, with a lot of evolution/maturing to come. For now it's just a caricature of what it will become.

Brooks wrote:

It could be that the real debate will not be books versus the Internet but how to build an Internet counterculture that will better attract people to serious learning.

Let's suppose I want to know when a particular event took place. I have a set of encyclopedia and I have the internet. I could either look at the appropriate encyclopedia article or use a search engine to find the datum on the internet. The choice would probably be determined by whether or not my computer is turned on.

Now let's suppose I want a discussion of whether financial markets should be regulated more strictly or not. That sort of thing is easy to find on the internet because various points of view, from those of the laissez faire free marketeers to those of unreconstructed Trotskyites, are readily available. So for many topics the internet is easier to use than the literature.

But let's not forget what the internet is really for.

By 'Tis Himself (not verified) on 10 Jul 2010 #permalink

Brooks is the master of affable, apparently reasonable right wing palaver. He makes the rest, at WAPO and The New Republic, for example, look positively prosimian.

I think the problem with the Internet is that content of value is hard work and time consuming to produce and people want (need) to get paid for it. And as we've seen quite often, getting paid for Internet content in a satisfactory way isn't incredibly easy.

I think Brooks is being a simple minded fool. He is making a lot of moronic assumptions.

First, he assumes that books would be more widespread sans internet. While traditional methods for reading books are definitely taking a hit, people haven't abandoned them. A lot of the folks who aren't engaging with books, who are instead focused on the internet were never into books - or wouldn't have been.

Second, he assumes that books are somehow special repositories of greatness. Sorry, but even as the majority of the internet is useless garbage, the majority of books read pre-internet were also useless garbage. Brooks is engaging in nostalgia for "the good old days" that never bloody well existed.

Third, we are still very new to this whole internet thingy. There is absolutely no question that the internet and web are going to become an increasingly important presence in human lives. Digital living is where we are headed and no amount of whining and hand waving is going to change that. New as it is, there are rather a lot of problems - but many of those problems will work themselves out.

The problem is that the only way the problems are going to be worked out, is by embracing it and working to utilize it properly. Luddite hand wringing and fear is only going to prolong the problems - it will not, cannot solve anything.