Never-Betters vs. Better-Nevers

Given that we’re spending an increasing amount of our lives online, it seems important to me to take a step back once in a while and gain some perspective on our relationship to the Internet. Am I getting anything out of it? Is my attention span shortening? Are my interactions with others honest and healthy? What would Jesus say about my online behavior?

Adam Gopnik, in last week’s issue of The New Yorker, wrote an insightful piece called “The Information – How the Internet Gets Inside Us.” In it, he reviews a number of recent books looking at the kind of Internet questions I pose above. He breaks the books down into three categories:

  1. Never-Betters – The optimist’s view, these authors think the Internet is creating a new utopia with open access to information for everyone fueling all sorts of amazing advances.
  2. Better-Nevers – These authors wish the Internet had never happened. That the constant barrage of information (most of which is heavily distorted) is creating scattered shells of people who spend their days nose to screen and sniping anonymously at one another.
  3. Ever-Wasers – These are the pragmatists who say that at any point in history, some new technology threatened to take over our lives only to be replaced by the next thing. Think printing press, radio, television, etc. Chill out, they say, for this, too, will pass.

In his summation, Gopnik talks about how the Internet has exposed “the things that have usually lived in the darker recesses or mad corners of our mind.” All those things are now only a Google search and a click away. We used to keep these things to ourselves, but now we blast away without a governor to hold us back:

“Thus the limitless malice of Internet commenting: it’s not newly unleashed anger but what we all think in the first order, and have always in the past socially restrained if only thanks to the look on the listener’s face—the monstrous music that runs through our minds is now played out loud.”

Kind of chilling. Take a walk around the neighborhood and try to imagine all that “monstrous music” playing inside…

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