In an era of multiple methods of immediate communication, there is no shortage of information and opinions that are easily distributed everywhere with little or no obvious signs of thought or reflection. While there are great advantages to such instant communication, it also represents dangerous opportunities for ignorance, intolerance and questionable judgment (among other things) to be spread out far beyond the boundaries within they were previously confined. Twenty years ago, it would have been necessary to seek out a library to perform research on any number of subjects. The news was obtained through the evening news broadcast on television or the daily newspaper. It would have been impossible to call family from a moving vehicle, let alone hold a GPS device and know exactly where you were on the planet at any given moment.
Yet, with the advantages seen by today’s generation, there are an equal number of dangers, some not as apparent as others. A 24-hour news cycle requires either an inordinate amount of newsworthy events which need to be reported upon or the same stories repeated ad nauseum. Failing both of these, opinion of the news often serves as an inadequate substitute for the news. This does not mean that opinions and editorials are bad in and of themselves – merely that they are intended mainly to serve as context at best and slanted viewpoints at worst. The inevitable result is that the news becomes as much contrived editorials with information being framed from a certain point of view as it does reporting on the actual events that trigger them.
Additionally, there is the propagation of materials and ideologies that previously would have been more difficult to obtain or find. Now, with a simple Google search, it it possible to find information on almost any subject imaginable, regardless of its views of or by mainstream society. And if the information cannot be found, there is nothing to prevent the creation of such information by anyone with access to a computer and the internet. Thus, sites can be found that cheer the rise of radical forms of nationalism at the expense of minorities while ignoring the dangerous precedents set throughout history with the rise of nationalistic organizations, praise Hitler and Nazism for raising German pride while overlooking the atrocities that were perpetrated in their names, discuss radical religious ideologies and how to violently implement those beliefs or the sharing of materials on a variety of morally questionable ideas and activities. Furthermore, becase of the preponderance of material that is available on the internet, it is often difficult to know the authoritative from the subjective and research on a topic may return very unintended results! And this does not even begin to cover intellectual property rights which are routinely abused – while the RIAA’s methods are certainly questionable at times, the purpose of protecting their artists works is certainly one that deserves more attention.
Finally, the speed and ease with which any information can be shared online has severely restricted personal privacy as well as the ability to live down one’s mistakes. While the freedom to express one’s self is highly treasured, it does not come without the attendant responsibility to realize that there can also be consequences for those actions. A pervasive sense of (false) anonymity on the internet also lends itself to a belief that doing or saying things that one would not repeat offline is ok – often with consequences that can potentially last a lifetime. Also, the increased popularity of social networking sites such as Twitter, Facebook and even YouTube only heighten the potential for committing life-changing errors in judgment.
This is not to argue for censorship of the internet or a restriction of the free flow of information. Instead, this is merely intended to be an observation that, while the internet is a great tool for people to use, it can – like all tools – be misused. It is easy to recognize the power of the internet for doing great things and making things better, but it would be folly to ignore the threats and dangers that lurk within it, too. Indeed, it is far better to know more than to know less because ignorance is not bliss on the internet.
At least, that is my opinion, anyway.