Friday, June 10, 2016

The Internet is Not New

Jordan Murray, Alec Parkinson, and Josh Olsen

The internet is full of sensationalism, dubious information, and inflammatory dialog. Because of the internet’s very nature, we are constantly exposed to these things in a way we never have been before. It is tempting to blame the medium for these problems - but none of these things are new. Although the internet is unlike past forms of communication in the speed with which new ideas can be created, disseminated, and fought over, it simply represents an amplification of issues which humankind has been dealing with for hundreds of years.

Gossip & Sensationalism

Many people complain that gossip has taken over the news, and that there is no longer any room for substantial news articles. However, gossip has pervaded the news since 1500 BC. Jordan talks about the history of gossip news and how society's fascination with sensational gossip is nothing new. Jordan argues that the best way to work through this gossip is by doing intentional news searches, instead of just browsing through Facebook.

Trolls & Inflammatory Dialog

Much attention has been given lately to the plague of internet bullying and trolling, and the damage it can cause. However, trolls have been ruffling feathers and causing problems since before the invention of the printing press. Given their long and storied past, we can gain significant perspective on modern trolls from examining examples from the past. Modern trolls may have a new medium to work from, but ultimately their motivations (and the problems they can cause) are the same.

Dubious & Inaccurate Claims

On the internet it’s important to know the difference between analysis and theory. Being an amateur scientist has been the tried-and-true way to separate fact from fiction ever since people have had mass media to read and watch.

Even today many personality tests have a type of stereotypical, superstitious simplicity whose influence can be traced back before the rhetoric of psychology convinced scientific and lay people alike to overvalue Sigmund Freud’s single overarching theory of cognitive development- Even before Burton compared the French and American Revolutions’ views of tradition while echoing the ‘four temperament’ tradition in other parts of his life, through William Shakespeare’s then culturally relevant plays, to Hippocrates and colleagues who studied the human body’s ‘four humours’.
As cadaver dissection took decades upon decades to overturn antiquated Western medicine through the same mass media veins that perpetuated it, so can the historical precedent of the internet be dissected so that the skill of analytical dissection becomes clearer for you, a critical thinker using the World Wide Web.


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  2. I think that acknowledging the history of gossip is very important, especially in light of gossip in modern news media. This gossip and news driven virtual atmosphere hugely affects the motives and actions of everyone who has access to it. People do and post about things with the sole intention of promoting themselves, knowing that their post will be liked, shared, and commented on. From deciding where to vacation to planning the fine details of an extravagant wedding, this promotional motive can govern our entire lives! Gossip's impact on the behavior of individuals is also displayed through historical happenings. Alexander Hamilton is a good example. He was a founding father who had aspirations to become president. However, his affair with Maria Reynolds became public through news media and this shattered his political future. Reynolds had asked him for money and the relationship turned romantic. Reynolds and her husband fashioned the affair to blackmail Hamilton for money. Although the scandal was discovered, admitted to, and ended in a private setting, the information fell into the hands of Hamilton's political enemy, Thomas Jefferson. Jefferson passed the story to a political gossiper of the time who published the story and love letters between Hamilton and Reynolds in his newspaper. This prompted Hamilton's public admittance to the scandal in an attempt to save face and clarify his financial gifts to Reynolds to have come from personal funds rather than federal funds. But because of gossip, the story was out and he never became President of the United States. Gossip is definitely not new, but it is definitely a powerful manipulating tool and a force that can have a huge impact on our actions and the consequences of them in private and public settings.

  3. I'd like to reenforce the claim that trolling has been a pastime of certain people throughout history—certainly connected with how gossip and sensationalism have been a thing for a long while. Well done on this collective blog-post!

    Written in 1729, I see "A Modest Proposal" by Jonathan Swift as an excellent early example of trolling. In this work, he addresses the problem of city slums being overcharged with children beggars, and statistically pokes fun at the notion that it's the people of a country who create wealth. With child labor entering the argument, it appears that Swift draws our attention to something just a little more ridiculous to make a point. He writes of a proposal to sell and eat children to make the country more wealthy. Satire is trolling.

  4. I agree with your claim that gossip, trollish behavior and dubious information have always been around. However, there are persuasive arguments to the contrary. Nicholas Carr, author of "The Shallows: What the Internet is Doing to Our Brains", explains that the internet is literally reshaping how the neural pathways form in our brains and how we process, gather and distribute information. He also draws on research done by Marshall McLuhan who wrote, "Understanding Media: The Extensions of Man." In this work the now common phrase, "The medium is the message" came into being. He argues that you cannot separate the message from the medium and that these technological tools influence us as people so much that it is ignorant to say that it is a tool that we can pick up and put down. We are masters and slaves to the medium of the internet and we are shaped by it. Carr and McLuhan both are concerned about how the public embraces the content of new mediums and get caught up in it and give it importance. The ultimate argument of McLuhan is that the content of the medium is not as important as the medium itself in influencing us. For this reason I believe that the internet has created many of these problems you speak of.

    Whereas Gossip, lies and trolls have always existed, this new medium has given avenue where avenue did not exist before for individuals to contribute to these problems. The internet did not just facilitate existing trolls but created new ones. Gossip and lies are now shareable under pseudonyms and anonymity and again the internet did not just create an easier medium for gossip and lies, but recruited new acolytes.