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?

Social Media is a Wicked Problem

Posted on July 28, 2009 by 1 Comment

Tac Anderson, Digital Consulting Director, WE Studio D

Image created by Tac Anderson

I know this is a “no duh” for most people but I had an epiphany about the way I think about content “consumption”.

We don’t consume content. In fact every interaction with every piece of online content only serves to create more content.

Every click, every rating, share, new link, comment, new blog post, etc, just creates more content. More 0’s &1’s on a database more records.

This is why data is expanding exponentially. And as the data expands exponentially that creates more interactions resulting in more content resulting in more … you get the idea.

There’s actually a scientific term for this and it’s called a wicked problem. Search is a wicked problem. Social media is a wicked(er) problem.

I imagine that social media measurement and search provide a level of complexity that made search in the late 90s look like child’s play.

This post was originally published at New Comm Biz

Twitter is the Internet’s Water Cooler

Posted on July 6, 2009 by Comments Off

Tac Anderson, Digital Consulting Director

An office water cooler with a reusable 5-gallo...You can’t monitor the whole Internet. Nobody can, not even Google. So what do you do? It’s obvious that you can’t ignore it. You need to be monitoring something.

“But I don’t have budget for fancy monitoring tools.” You don’t need any budget. There are dozens of free or nearly free tools to use but you could probably just monitor Twitter if you had to.The easiest and cheapest way is set up your team with TweetDeck, let it run in the background at work and run a search for your keywords.

I’m not advocating that you only monitor Twitter (and the above solution only works while TweetDeck is running) but I think if you only did one thing, it should be to monitor Twitter. Why? Why not blogs or set up alerts?

Twitter is the water cooler of the Internet. One could argue that it’s becoming the World’s Water Cooler. But they’d be wrong. The world has many Internet Water Coolers.

Facebook is the World’s Largest Water Cooler.

The Facebook Water Cooler started off as a brand of water bottles exclusively sold at college. It quickly became the favorite water cooler brand in the U.S. and has quickly become the favorite at all of the Internet’s international offices as well. After a redesign of the water cooler people complained that it released too much water too quickly, but eventually they got used to it. People do get really uncomfortable when they run into both their ex-girlfriend and their mom at the Facebook Water Cooler.

Twitter is the World’s Noisiest Water Cooler.

The Twitter Water Cooler is not the largest but is by far the noisiest water cooler in the office. This is the water cooler that people who don’t drink water hate having a desk too near, and put up signs outside their cubicle wall reminding visitors that there are people working, asking that conversations be kept to a minimum. The Twitter Water Cooler used to run out of water all the time but it’s been much better lately. It also has really, really small cups.

FriendFeed is the the Geekiest Water Cooler.

The FriendFeed Water Cooler is where IT support hangs out and bitches about everyone else. It has superior filtration and state-of-the-art cooling, and is more energy-efficient. In fact, it recently implemented new water reclamation from the air, but only a few people know how to use it.

Internet vs. the World

While there are many water coolers, for what’s happening in the world, Twitter is the one that everything on the Internet passes through. If there’s big news in the office everyone, including PR and HR, goes over to the Twitter Water Cooler to find out what’s up and then goes back to their water coolers to talk about it.

So some of you are rightfully thinking, “Tac, the Internet *is* the world.” Yes, it is. But many things in the world don’t rise to any significant level of awareness on the Internet. My wonderful wife spends more time on Facebook than any other Internet site. She gets news about what’s happening in our neighborhood, in our community, and in our friends’ and families’ lives. That stuff doesn’t make it on Twitter and you don’t need to know about it.

US Airways Flight 1549 Plane Crash Hudson in N...

But if a plane crashesa celebrity dies (or one allegedly dies), a nation revolts or your marketing campaign tanks, the Twitter Water Cooler knows about it. If you’re going to monitor only one thing right now, Twitter will get you 90% of what you want faster than anything.

Top Image via Wikipedia

Bottom Image by davidwatts1978 via Flickr

This article was cross posted on New Comm Biz

The Evolution of the CMS

Posted on June 26, 2009 by Comments Off

Tac Anderson, Digital Consulting Director

posterousFollowing two posts on the topic of blog evolution comes some alerts that fuel more thoughts. I’m obviously geeking out here but please bear with me. I normally don’t talk too much about tools here on this blog but once you get to the end it will all make sense (hopefully).

Posterous announced the ability to post to just about anywhere from Posterous (which you post to via email) that would allow it to become a defacto publishing tool for content producers.

Now blogs by their nature are content managing systems (CMS). But those just work within themselves. Agencies and news corporations have deployed more powerful enterprise CMS systems

friendfeedFriendFeed has had cross-posting capability to Twitter from almost the beginning, but not full content and not to blogs.

FriendFeed and Posterous are vastly different tools but they are both moving in the direction of being a CMS engine, or Web content management. Posterous is more of a blog and FriendFeed is really more of a content aggregator/search engine but they both serve similar ends: aggregating and storing your content and then pushing that (or notices) out to other parts of the Web.

Like all things Web 2.0 instead of using a closed behind-the-scenes CMS, these are open and out front community influenced CMSs. Dave Patton and I have talked about the CMS needs of an agency like WaggEd. Could the FriendFeed, Posterous approach be replicated for an internal CMS?

If Chris Anderson Can’t Reinvent the Publishing World, Who Can?

Posted on May 19, 2009 by Comments Off

Tac Anderson, Digital Consulting Director

Even as Chris Anderson makes a boatload of money off his ideas, subsequent books and high-dollar speaking engagements, Wired (his editorial charge), is one of the biggest losers in the ad game:

Wired Struggles to Find Niche in Magazine World — NYTimes.com

I think Chris’s ideas are spot on. He’s a brilliant guy with some serious thought leadership. Wired is a great publication, both the online and the print versions, but can he translate great content and thought leadership into a real business for Wired? If Chris can’t, then who can?

This really only leads me to two rationale explanations:

  1. Chris is too caught up in his own celebrity.
  2. Chris is hamstrung by parent company Conde Nast to implement any of that great thinking.

The third possibility is that we have yet to see Chris’ master plan in action. I’m hoping for number three. Wired and the whole publishing world (online and print) need some innovation.

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