Wednesday, April 7, 2010

The Internet

A few people I know, or know of, have written pieces lately about the internet and internet culture. First, John Green talked about the fact his line, “What is the point of being alive if you don't at least try to do something remarkable?” from his novel, “An Abundance Of Katherines,” has been tweeted more than ten thousand times. While tweeters use it as an inspirational idea, in the book it was supposed to be a concept the protagonist learned was flawed over the course of the story. John attributes quotes being taken out of context to a “twittery world.” In other words, Twitter, and other micro-blogs such as Facebook status statements, have lead to readers quoting material in ways it wasn’t intended by the author.

A short time later, my good friend, Colleen Lacey, wrote a blog addressing the fact that people keep blaming the internet for their own stupidity. She wrote, “I hear all the time, ‘Facebook caused this and FB caused that, and Facebook gets people into trouble, etc etc…’ It has nothing to do with the site itself, it is the people who use it, that don't know how to use it properly. If you post pictures of the night before, which you didn't want people to see, then you should not have posted any at all (or mark them private or friends only...sometimes that doesn't help, but still).”

I thought about these two pieces, and I came to a few conclusions of my own. First of all, while I agree with 85% of what John Green says over all, Twitter has nothing to do with the cause of quoting literary material out of context. Twitter may be another forum for such misquotes, but we’ve been doing it for hundreds, even thousands, of years.

When kids are first learning about money and the value of money, parents often site the quote from Hamlet, “Neither a borrower nor a lender be.” They’re using the line as a time honored piece of good advice, warning their kids not to go into debt or loan money to their friends. However, Shakespeare never intended this advice to be taken to heart by the audience/readers. He gave the line to Polonius, who was essentially the first literary version of Cliff Clavin, a guy who spouted half baked advice to make himself feel smart and draw attention to himself.

This brings me back to Colleen’s point. If we can’t blame Twitter for such literary misunderstandings, surely we can’t blame the internet for acts of stupidity or the unfortunate results of those acts. Think of the internet as a single huge city. You have stores, clubs, news outlets, public forums, and even a huge red light district. Now think of social sites as the city’s bars and nightclubs. If a woman enters a bar and leaves with a guy she just met, something bad is probably going to happen. Likewise, if such a lady meets a guy online and agrees to meet him right away, the same bad thing can happen. One can’t blame the site anymore than one can blame the bar.

Of course, just as in a physical city, a person can use common sense and still get snake bit. I ordered flowers for my mother for Easter from FTD, normally a reputable site, and got a bunch of wilted flowers and a vase which couldn't possibly hold them. However, people get ripped off in the real world too. In fact, because I spoke up right after they were delivered, I got my money back, just as if I’d caught the problem on the way out of the flower shop’s door. Thus, my point stands. The internet is no more or less safe than the physical world, it’s simply a different medium for us to do what we’ve been doing since time began. The trick is to be as careful online as you would be downtown.


  1. In so many ways the internet has helped people, but in others its made them dumber. It gives people the information they need, but most of the time no one double checks the facts, or takes the time to make sure they have ALL the info. I just want to smack myself in the face at times, but unfortunately im sure im guilty of abusing it too. We can just do our bests. =)

  2. I'm not sure if it MAKES them dumber, or simply gives them a forum to show how dumb they are.