Tuesday, March 09, 2010

He's Got a Good Point and Click

I don't usually read Newsweek magazine, but when my nephew passed on this link The Internet? Bah!Hype alert: Why cyberspace isn't, and will never be, nirvana by Clifford Stoll I was immediately struck by a few things. I detected a slight under current of disdain - OK it was a flood of disdain. Actually Mr. Stoll made a few insightful points that I found myself agreeing with.

He talks about telecommuting as the wave of the future - where I come from that's a future that was promised a long time ago. First it was waiting on broadband. Broadband is here. The few attempts I've made at telecommuting were bittersweet. I loved that I didn't have to drive in, I loved that I saved parking fees and $8 lunches, but I missed my comrades, I missed (valuable) impromptu hallway meetings. In the end I felt disconnected, rather odd when I was just as "connected" as I had been sitting in my office the week before.

Internet classrooms didn't exist when I went to school but my college age daughter dislikes the cyberclassroom for the same reason I disliked telecommuting - plus they charge higher tuition for cyberstudies???

Then there are Internet searches, or Googling as it's known. I rely on the pool of technical talent reachable via Internet to do my job. However, as good as Google, Yahoo and Bing are we find ourselves wading through mountains of garbage to find anything useful. And for you technologists please try out those solutions on test systems first, just saying.

Clifford is really bent over the cacophony of voices where most everyone shouts and few listen. Those pesky, deluded bloggers! This is way too broad a brush stroke Cliffy. I have found as many profound and enlightening conversations as I have name calling shouting matches. Here's a hint: stay off the comment sections. The fact that I can peruse hundreds of newspapers, magazines and media news sites everyday has enriched my life far beyond what the Minneapolis StarTribune ever could. In fact the only newspaper I spend my money on is the Wall Street Journal because it actually has content that isn't perpetually condescending to anyone but angry leftists.

Shopping is another area where Mr. Stoll claims the Internet hasn't lived up to the hype. Maybe so, but I enjoy shopping Amazon, Priceline, iTunes and dozens of other places so I don't have to waste my Saturdays. I also love doing my banking online. Shopping in general is enhanced by the Internet in ways that were out of reach before. Comparing products and product reviews by way of the Internet is invaluable. As long as common sense isn't left behind in the dazzle of flashy websites and incredible claims the purchasing choices people make are better informed.

There are downsides to the Internet and Stoll hits the nail on the head when he says people need human contact. E-mail is a wonderfully helpful tool but a single e-mail message pales in comparison to receiving and card or letter touched by real hands and delivered to a real mailbox. Those delights are few and far between, a thing of the past. Just like having all the kids friends running through the house is a thing of the past. My son plays way too many video and computer games for my liking. I know all the kids are doing it and they have created a cadre of online friends that share common adventures and "big battles". Often when they actually get together physically in the same room they all connect to the web anyway and play their war games. Logically is this any different than playing board games? The Internet is the new game board. We older folks feel sorry for the kids that don't go traipsing about in the woods or hanging out on street corners with their pals, but this is their new hangout. Different yes, but worse? Who can say.

Lastly, I believe Clifford is right that we all have a yearning for human contact. To the notion that it's being squelched by the "Internet" I have one word to say: Facebook. Facebook has brought me into contact with friends and classmates from a lifetime ago. While I do not now or ever intend to spend much time on Facebook its popularity is a testament to what Stoll is driving at. I have already attended social gatherings that were well attended because the notice was sent out via Facebook. Even my adult daughter and I enjoy (extra) connections through Facebook from time to time.

The Internet is a tool, a marvelous tool. It shouldn't replace but rather enhance human relationships. The Internet can also be a destructive and dangerous tool if you let it - but then so can gambling, drinking, boinking... I could go on, but I won't.