Sunday, August 19, 2007

8-19-07: Rules and the Internet

Like many children, I was raised by parents who believed in setting firm rules. I think it's the right way to raise a child, since the world is really nothing but a big set of rules. But with the new generation being raised with the internet, it seems as if the rules have changed, if not disappeared.

I saw a video on Digg today from The Colbert Report, in which Colbert interviews a man named Andrew Keen, who wrote a book about how the internet is destroying our culture. I don't exactly agree with him, but the interview got me thinking: what rules really matter? If some one is raised with the thinking that being selfish is bad, but steals content from the internet without paying for it, are they breaking that simple rule? Keen's point is more specific, and elitist, that amateur artists are corrupting the art scene and ruining it for "more talented" artists who could afford tuition at top art schools. I think he's an asshole, but if he were less of an asshole, he could have gone down a different alley. Had he simply stated that "Free content ruins the art industry," he'd have a point, but he'd look like a greedy bastard instead of an asshole. At least greed has followers.

It is really difficult to be altruistic nowadays, especially regarding the internet and its effect on human interaction. People yell and scream about how it has ruined person-to-person relationships, but I don't think it has. It has simply changed the rules. Person-to-person relationships used to be primarily physical; I would shake your hand. Then it was over the telephone, where our voices were used. Now it's digital, and you can video chat with some one in India or Japan, for nothing. As the popular book states, the world is flat. Almost any one can meet many people, not just the people lucky enough to live in a urban setting or who have jobs that require frequent contact with new people.

If anything, and this might be a stretch but it's still my belief, the internet has enhanced physical personal relationships. It's based on two principles. The first is the simple "it's more special because I could do it another way" idea; you COULD just chat with some one online, but you choose to meet them face to face. The second principle is similar to the first, but it's a bit more reinforced. Since most people, myself included, are naturally shy and don't reveal much in face to face conversation, the internet allows people to converse more openly. If I tell some one in a text conversation something personal, it's not me telling another person. It's more like me telling myself something that I already know, but wanted to type it and see it on the screen. That is a stretch, but it makes sense to me.

The other funny fact about Andrew Keen: you can buy his book on It doesn't disprove his point, but he certainly does have something to gain from his dreaded digital nemesis.

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