Does the Internet Make Us Dumber? Or Smarter? Or Both?

Posted on June 21, 2010 by 2 Comments

Over on my Facebook page I’ve been playing host to a weekend-long debate, which has evolved into a discussion worthy of it’s own blog post.

The question: Are we dumbing down as a culture? And if so, what role does media play?

Cited: 3 dueling op-eds

  1. Does the Internet Make You Dumber? WSJ, Nicholas Carr quotes the Roman philosopher Seneca: “to be everywhere is to be nowhere,” arguing that the hyperlinked structure of the internet contributes to a persistent state of distraction which, research indicates, hampers deep thought and, along with it, retention of information and absorption of knowledge.
  2. Mind Over Mass Media, NYT, Stephen Pinker argues that new forms of media have always caused panics (the printing press, newspapers, television, paperbacks), but such panics fail reality check. The oft-bemoaned perception that we are dumbing down as a culture is not supported by evidence to the contrary, such as the modern output of scientific innovation.
  3. Does the Internet Make You Smarter? WSJ, Clay Shirky references historical disruptions in culture fueled by new media evolutions (the Protestant Reformation, fueled by print) to illustrate the pattern of initial break-down of cultural/intellectual norms followed by an explosion of new creative outputs which raised societies to a new level.

The debate sub-streams

  1. To what extent does media contribute to the dumbing down of a culture? Or does it? Or is it the symptom of a dumbed down culture? Evidence to support the “dumbing down” hypothesis is seen in the insipidness of so-called “Reality TV,” the political and cultural extremes cultivated by and reinforced by news agendas (FOX) and the 24-hour news cycle, and the persistent distraction we suffer from as a result of our hyperlinked, short-form internet and social media behaviors. Does media fuel this, or is it merely a mirror reflecting the culture as it is? Or is it a distorted mirror, reflecting culture at the edges?
  2. Why are there so few culturally and politically meaningful comedians compared to two to three decades ago? Who are the Lenny Bruce, George Carlin, Richard Pryor of today? (John Stewart and Stephen Colbert of course…)  Is this evidence of a cultural dumbing down? Or is it evidence simply of the business-minded Hollywood machine which has optimized to produce pulp for the masses rather than the edges?
  3. And what about the role of education and critical thinking? One could argue that all three of the op-ed author’s arguments about the impact of the internet and social media on us as a culture are accurate — the internet, like all media, is simply an amplifier — widening the gap by which the dumb are becoming dumber, the smart, smarter. But isn’t it really an issue of critical thinking abilities and the willingness to apply them? Is this skill being taught more or less than a generation or two ago? (remember McCarthyism?) Does classical education or internet-enabled knowledge assimilation contribute more or less to one’s ability to absorb and [critically] process knowledge?

The meta: the medium is the message

Interestingly, the discussion is in many respects an example of “the medium is the message” at play:

  • Living room —> Web —> Facebook. The conversation originated in my living room as a wine-sotted debate between my husband and our neighbor, crossed over onto social media when I opened my laptop to hunt down the NYT op-ed as my contribution to the debate, then posted on Facebook.
  • Internet-facilitated connection of culturally and geographically dispersed nodes. Once on Facebook, the discussion then drew in an individual from my hometown (whom I hadn’t spoken to in 20-years, aside from him friending me on Facebook), my husband (sitting across the room from me debating with me on Facebook from his iPhone), a martial arts buddy from across the country and a couple work colleagues from opposite coasts.
  • Facebook’s alienation of “professional creators” via sketchy privacy and copyright policies. Meanwhile my neighbor exited the debate completely once he walked across the street and went home because, as a professional photographer, he wants nothing to do with Facebook and its questionable privacy and copyright issues.

So what do you think? Are we dumbing down as a culture? And does the internet and social media play a role?

Globalization: Let’s Do It Right

Posted on June 3, 2009 by Comments Off

Chris Kirchhof, Localization and QA Manager

So, you think you know what globalization really is, but you believe it is only for multibillion-dollar corporations? Think again. In today’s market, with the influence of the internet, even small companies with fewer than 50 employees are looking across the borders to see what opportunities other markets have to offer. Many of those multibillion-dollar companies actually got there because of globalization.

Globalization still seems to be the great unknown. Everybody has heard the term, but few know what it really means, and even fewer know how to successfully execute it.

Is it because globalization is the new hype? It can’t be that new, I just read “Small Companies Going Global” from 1989.

So here we are 20 years later and there are still many companies struggling when they take their products overseas, after a quick market research showed that there is a need for their product in the targeted markets. They even invested a lot of money to get the marketing campaign that was so successful in their home market translated for the new market. They are now present on the market but can’t seem to find a way out of those low sales numbers.

What happened?

There is much more to globalization than just a market research and the translation of a marketing campaign. Remember you are dealing with a foreign country and that means you are dealing with a foreign culture. Don’t assume that the marketing campaign you launched successfully in your own country will guarantee success with consumers in foreign markets.

Too often I heard “We even translated all content into that language, but still the results are disappointing”. Translation is just not enough. A different culture, means different habits, different traditions, different likes and dislikes and of course different laws. These are very important factors companies must have solutions for before they venture into a new area for their business. The product and website appeal to the consumers in the native market, but do they really appeal to the folks overseas?

As an example, compare http://www.zdnet.com and http://www.zdnet.com.cn:

ZDNet.comZDNet.com.cn

Do you see the difference? It is not just a copy in design and content; it is adapted to the local market.

It is all so obvious to you, isn’t it? Why is it that there are still far too many companies not adapting to cultural differences?

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