Does the internet bring us together? Does the internet tear us apart?
In Digital McLuhan, Paul Levinson seems to argue that based on McLuhan’s insights, the internet does bring us together: it is, after all, a medium of communication between people, and therefore facilitates connections and the sharing of information. Thus, McLuhan’s idea that “the new electronic interdependence recreates the world in the image of a global village,” in which people around the world are able to communicate with one another quickly and easily.
However, even while recognizing its upsides, Neil Postman cautions us on the dangers of reliance on technology. “Their private matters have been made more accessible to pow-erful institutions. They are more easily tracked and controlled; are subjected to more examinations…are often reduced to mere numerical objects.” While people may have a voice on the internet, it is one voice in many, reduced often-times to words on a page without any personal characteristics of facial features, tone of voice, body language; they have a voice but not a presence. Human interactions can be bypassed through on-line websites that allow us to check our bank accounts, order food, shop, identified by a username and a password, not as a human but as a series of digits.
Postman says, “To a man with a computer, everything looks like data.” But is this really true? Can the internet be used to interact and make connections with people in meaningful ways, or does it simply display data, de-personalized by the lack of a human body present in the room?
I am a strong proponent of in-person interactions. I love making contact with people, literally and figuratively; you may see them standing next to you, and hear their voice, but when you can lean against them and feel them beside you, it really feels as if they’re there, when until you reach that moment of contact, it could all just be an illusion.
The internet cannot replace that, and it only will if you let it. One thing that Levinson and Postman both agreed on is the importance of McLuhan’s idea, “the medium is the message.” Interacting by way of a new medium changes the way we think of social interaction; however, does it follow that on-line interaction will replace in-person interactions? It allows us the opportunities to communicate in new ways, and by and large, the opportunities yield more than they take away.
In a TED talk athttp://www.ted.com/talks/chris_anderson_how_web_video_powers_global_innovation.html, “How web video powers global innovation,” Chris Anderson talks about how on-line videos are enabling people to spread and receive new ideas and information that allows them to learn about things in ways never before possible. ”
Rather than causing people to become more isolated, it pushes people to come out to people: “you have to open up, you have to show your stuff to the world. It’s by giving away what you think is your deepest secret that maybe millions of people are empowered to help improve it.”
TED itself is a source of videos on-line, and is an example of how people are “sharing ideas as freely and as widely as possible” via the internet, as argued by Anya Kemenetz in her article, “How TED Connects the Idea-Hungry Elite” athttp://www.fastcompany.com/magazine/148/how-ted-became-the-new-harvard.html. And while there may be concerns over privacy – seehttp://finance.yahoo.com/family-home/article/110663/6-things-you-should-never-reveal-on-facebook for information you probably shouldn’t reveal on-line – they do not contradict the idea that because of the internet, people have more opportunities to meet people than ever before.