Justify the internet

Over in MPSIMS I asked What else can you do with this internet thing? What answer has this exercise given me? Just as I thought: not much. There are car ads and credit card ads that nobody hits. There is news I could hear earlier on the radio and other information that makes The Weekly World News look reliable. There are self-aggandizing websites for individuals and companies. In fact, most of it seems to be advertising of one sort or another. (I’d say bad things about the porn except I LIKE that part.)

You folks are smart and computer savvy, so tell me. Just what good is this? I’ve heard all of the booster reasons and they have turned out to be, at best, optimistic. At worst they are self-serving BS. Can you give me any VALID reasons for its continued existence?

Sure. The fact that you are able to ask such an inane question to more than 10,000 of people, the majority of whom you have never met in person.

Good enough for you?

Actually, no. This is just a glorified BBS.

It’s not like I’m suggesting the dismantling of the internet. But every institution or technology needs people to ask if they are serving their intended purpose and, if not, are they producing unexpected results and are those results positive or negative. I’m bored and disappointed with the inane direction the net has taken, although I appreciate the yuppies whose imprudent investments have made it possible for me to talk with people outside my calling area without paying long distance charges. And yeah, I use it nearly every day for things other than gabbing in MPSIMS. But I got by about as well before the net.

friedo used the exact example I would have, had I been a hair faster on the trigger. However, I’ll have to struggle to make something coherent out of what I have left.

There are shopping opportunites on the internet, used by a great many people and increasing as we go along. I have problems figuring out why anyone would bother with catalogue shopping if there is an electronic alternative.

For me, the best feature of the internet is the availibility of information. Damn near any subject has some devotee posting something about it. It’s not of the same quality and reliability as a dedicated research library, but in the vast majority of cases, there’s absolutely no need for that much detail. It seems as if I am constantly picking up an idea or event from a casual conversation, a book or (god help us) the television and wanting to find out more about it. With the internet, I never have to climb into my car and go to the public library in order to find out what the exact wording the Gulf of Tonkin Resolution used.

Is it earth-shaking info? Of course not, but combined with all the other times I use it as such, it’s well worth the cost of my ISP for the month.

The ability to have that much information at your fingertips is an incredibly useful tool, in my own mind. It certainly doesn’t allow you to write an entire research paper without leaving the desk, but it will allow you to winnow through the sources and rough out a plan of attack.

I love the net and can’t imagine going without it in some form or another. The opportunities for learning are too great.

Catalogs suck. I NEVER have the current one. No, I take that back. I had one for aluminum extrusions that still had the postal zone instead of a zip code. I called them up to get the current one and they said, “That is the current one,” and told me their zip code. Wish I remembered their name. I could see if they have a web site.

Yeah, the information at my fingertips is why I use it, but it’s to get reasonably current product information a lot quicker than I used to.

I’m concerned that people THINK the info is “of the same quality and reliability as a dedicated research library.” It’s easier and cheaper for crackpots to put together a web page than to get published. OTOH, there are voices outside the mainstream who might not otherwise be heard…

Dammit! Now I’m starting it!

Are you implying that BBSs aren’t part of the internet?

I think that the internet is still decades away from maturity. It’s only be around for a few decades, and avaliable to non-geeks for a few years. Society simply hasn’t had time to get used to it and organize their lives in a way to be able to take advantage of the tremendous opportunities. The internet today is like the automobile was before there were roads or gas stations. Sure, it was useful, but it wasn’t very significant. It wasn’t until people had time to realize how useful cars were that they became significant.

They didn’t used to be.

Well, I think the SDMB is pretty cool. I’m not sure what you mean when you say it’s a “glorified BBS”. Do you think of your telephone as a “glorified telegraph”?

Some other justifications:

I really like The Encyclopedia Britannica (as readers of my posts over in General Questions can no doubt testify). My state, Georgia, has a nice little web page, Georgia Net, which allows me to do things like search the Official Code of Georgia from the privacy of my own home (or from a library terminal, or at work, or anyplace else that has a computer with an Internet connection). I can also go to the homepage of my local public library, and browse the library’s catalog, place holds on books, renew books I’ve already checked out, and so forth–again, from any computer that has an Internet connection. Another good webpage put out by the State of Georgia is GALILEO (Georgia Library Learning Online); it’s a enough nice website as it is, but with the Secret Password I can obtain from the public library, I can access databases ranging from Periodical Abstracts (which, despite the name, gives you a mind-boggling number of full-text magazine articles from 1,600 different periodicals) to WorldCat (which allows you to access the catalogs of libraries all over the world, from the Library of Congress to the East Podunk Tri-County Community Library System). Sites like abebooks.com allow you to find that childhood classic you still remember 40 years later and (assuming all the other nostalgic Baby Boomers or Gen X’ers or whatever haven’t bid it up to $5,000 a copy) buy it.

Now, all of these things could to some extent be accomplished by other means. And, you could communicate across continents or oceans without telephones or even telegraphs–you could send messengers on horseback or by ship. Yeah, there’s a lot of garbage, and it’s still sort of up in the air on how to make money on a lot of this (i.e., how to pay for it all)–but as a method of disseminating a vast amount of information and of allowing for communications between lots of people, it’s definitely a major technological advance.

You know, libraries aren’t necessarily any guarantee against crackpottery. My local county public library system includes copies of everything from books on astrology to copies of Mein Kampf. A “dedicated research library”, if by that you mean, say, a university library, will also likely have all sorts of unsavory characters hidden away in its stacks. In my opinion, this is as it should be, but it does run the risk that some impressionable youngster will stumble across the wrong shelf and wind up believing in the Loch Ness Monster or Maoism or something like that.

A few years ago I was planning for business trip. I loaded up a map from MapQuest of the area, and had it highlight all the restaurants in the area. Of course, this could have been done before the Internet, but within minutes of thinking of doing it?

I want to transfer money between two of my bank accounts, and it’s done in seconds. Yes, it could have been done over the phone (I guess, I never did it that way). But again, not so quickly.

Do I need to even describe how much more efficient email is over snailmail?

How would we be able to use nukes without the internet?:slight_smile:

You’ve just justified it, you :putz:! With the internet you can get the opinions of a thousand people from as many regions easier than you can get three opinions from your hometown. You can get information of a very high quality if you know where to look, and get it very cheaply (often for only the cost of an ISP connection and a local phone call). But most importantly, the internet frees the presses to an unprecendented level. Anyone with minimal knowledge and money can post their views within very wide limits. That is more than enough justification for me.

Aside from the informational and economical benefits, there’s a lot of social benefit to it as well. No matter how small a minority you might be, you can always find someone online with a like mind, and usually many someones. It’s empowering and confidence building, and if you want to take it to its extreme, it’s given many people, including myself, the chance at a meaningful relationship with people that they (and I) would have NEVER been able to meet otherwise. It lets you escape any social cubbyhole you might be living in, and IMO, that has the potential to eventually broaden everyone’s perspectives.

There’s other benefits to it as well…for high-tech jobs, you have the entire world as a potential workforce pool. I’ll give an example: I’m a freelance artist and beta tester for a computer game, a modern tank combat simulation. The programmer/lead designer is in California. The technical director is in Germany, ex-Bundeswehr. Two of the scenario builders and beta testers are in Sweden, formerly of their army. The sound guy is in Texas. The web site admin is in Canada. I’m in Kentucky. We’re working with guys in Russia on Soviet armor. In general, we’ve gotten help and input from people literally around the world. (the game can be played in seven languages) With rare exception, none of the team has ever met any of the others, and the sole communication and coordination that created this product (which is a damn good product, if I do say so myself :slight_smile: ) has been online, and never would have been possible pre-net.

My work, my play, my socializing and my shopping are all done online. If I could take classes online, I’d be doing that, too. I can’t imagine living without it…life would be dreadfully boring and narrow-minded without the whole planet at your fingertips :slight_smile:

I’m far more critical of the media for having such a wide selection of it. I’m forced to evaluate and compare every bit of it that I consume far more rigorously just to make sense of the diversity. That’s something everyone should learn to do. It’s harder to get good information on the web, which makes finding and discerning it a valuable skill that goes everywhere.

That’s the value of the Internet. It’s not safe. It’s not prepackaged. Plus, where else are you going to see pictures like this?

A theoretical day:

I wake up and check my email. My mother mailed to say “hi”, saveing long distance and allowing me to keep in better touch with my family. I also got mail from an organization I am in telling me about an emergency meeting- they could contact us all at once instead of having to call us one by one. I also got an email from a classmate. He wants some opinions on the quality of his essay.

I look up a recipe for vegetarian breakfast entrees. It has become a thousand times easier to find recipes that suit various diatary restrictions. After breakfast I check an online newspaper. Then I visit the Straight Dope, where I learn a few things and sharpen my debate skills. I am able to discuss the items I read in the news and learn more. After printing out my Geology class’s notes (they are online- you simply print them out and bring them to class, and you write what you learned in the lecture directly on them.) I take a moment to look at a few Geology sites our teacher has linked to, including interesting studies that I would probably never had access to otherwise.

After class I sit down to write a politics paper. First I check my school’s online card catalogue system to make sure the books I want are in. The book I need is not in, so I check online sources. Some of the sites are a little spurious, but others have important primary sources, like the exact wording of the Monroe Docterine. I post my essay on our classes messege board, where I will recieve feedback on it from class members before I write my final draft. I also send a copy to my friend, who is interested in the subject.

While I am still in a scholarly mood, I sit down and visit my Digital Arts class website. Besides the usaual practical information about class times and such, there is a comprehensive discussion board. I post a few comments on my ideas about the Universal Turing Machine. I also take the time to respond to a few of my classmate’s questions. Finally, I go to some websites on which my classmates have posted their projects. In such big classes, it is sometimes hard to have discussions and get personal. Thanks to the messege board we have a way of helping eachother and out proffesors have another way to get to know us.

Then I take the time to update my own websites. I used to write little maganzines, but the huge expenense and small distribution of independent publishing got me down. Perhaps the best thing about the Internet is that it allows everyone with access (an increaseing amount if you factor in libraries) a chance at publication. Before only those that could afford paper and printing and distrubution costs could get their views know to a wide adience. The Internet is a free-for-all, and all that matters is the quality of your messege. The Zapatistas were the first to use the publishing power of the Internet to political ends. Endless oppertunities now exist for marginalized groups (and yes, a lot of crackpots) to get their voice out and be heard. And strangely enough, a lot of people, like me, do a lot of work to publish useful good things on the Internet for no tangible reward except perhaps a tiny bit of fame. The Internet is one of the few proofs that people really are motivated at times to work out of the goodness of their hearts and desire to build up society as a whole. A lot of the Internet was built volentarily. For example, one person hooked up a lot of Africa to email for no monitary return. Other people are on volentary instant response teams to fix things if major parts of the Internet go down. The Internet is one of the few succesful projects that rely on collective goodwill.

After talking to a few of my high school friends (who are scattered at various colleges) on Instant Messenger, I download a few hard-to-find songs by local Sacramento bands on Napster. After moving to Santa Cruz, it has been harder for me to get exposer to new bands in my hometown. Thanks to Napster, I have found many new artists to listen to, and buy CDs from. While some of the larger bands balk, a lot of local and unknown musicians rely on Internet distribution to get heard, and make their real money off of live shows. Putting out a record on your own is expensive, and lables are picky and restrictive. Musicians now have some freedom from that. As a filmmaker, I acknowladge that film may soon experience a renaissance due to Internet distribution. Already the short film has gone from being an art-house oddity to a popular and respected art form, thanks to short film distribution website. This distribution also allows young filmmakers that chance to be seen by those in a position to help them become famous filmakers. This isn’t just a music and film thing, either. The Internet has revolutionalized such things as poetry, puppetry and fantasy artwork.

Although Napster may have a bad name, it has a lot to do with freedom of speech. Freenet, an anonymous napster-like program, may hold the key to worldwide freedom of speech. On Freenet, one can post anything and read anything anonymously. Revolutionaly pamphlets calling for Democracy in China will be changed from illegal and dangerous items furitivly passed around to items freely read and written. Information control, long a tactic of authoritarian governments, may be no more. Whether the authorities like it or not, the 'Net might just bring forced freedom.

I check my bank account online, to make sure my finances are going well. Satisfied, I check the greyhound schedule to see about going back home for the weekend. I am unhappy with the schedule, so I check Amtrak. I reserve a pair of tickets. I also buy a couple books online. Our college bookstore ran out of books for one of my classes and they arn’t availible at bookstores in town, happily I can find them, even used and out of print books, online.

Relaxed, I sit back and play Pimpwars, and online game. All the while, I am running SETI At Home, a program that processes radio telescope information when your computer is idle and sends it back to people looking for life on other planets. Millions of computers around the world have allowed them to process information that they do not personally have the resourses to process. Finally, I look up a public domain bedtime story and go to sleep.

The Internet has changed my life for the better. Besides such nice things as easier shopping, it has revolutionalized art, music and basic human freedoms. I look forward to more wonderful things in the future. It has made my life better today.

Well, from a personal standpoint, the shopping alone is a big plus - I can find books, items, foreign goods, etc that I never could locally. I have tons of information on almost any subject I can dream up right at my fingertips. I can spend hours playing first-person shooters against people I know or don’t know all around the world. I can make penpals from all the corners of the globe. In fact, I met my wife via the net, so I am pretty damned happy about its existence (and no, it wasn’t a mail order bride site!). :slight_smile:

From a business standpoint, it’s revolutionized customer service, when done properly. It’s enhanced knowledge management across organizations - I have the expertise of 140,000 staff members virtually at my fingertips. It’s created massive amounts of income for companies, some justified, some not, in areas like B2B and B2C.

Like any other technology, some of its use will be productive, some of it will be idle chatter. Nothing new there.

Thank you. I’m getting a much better response than I did when I didn’t couch my question in hostile terms. If you need me to say anything else to keep the conversation going…

I AM rather shocked that you people do not already possess copies of the Monroe Doctrine or the Gulf of Tonkin Resolution, though.

[sub]FTR, I also got my job via the net.[/sub]

Carry on!

About the only people on earth that do that are the Amish. The rest of the world uses most of its tech without thinking of the consequences. Take nuclar power for instance. Sure, it made a buttload of energy cheap, but what about all of that waste? It’s gonna last ten thousand years! I would like to think that if we stopped and smelled the roses a little bit before we built all of those plants that we would have never even built the damned things.

i can see local doppler weather in time lapse without having to wait for it to come on the news so i can predict if i will get caught out in the rain when i set out for mountain biking on an overcast day.

Comparing the Internet to Television:

When television was first invented, many people said it would change the world and possibly usher in a new utopia. It would bring new vistas and sounds to remote corners of the world. The isolated farmer in Oklahoma would be able to sit in his living room and watch great opera singers, take classes in physics with the great professors, and tour the Taj Mahal visually.

Well, television has become one of three things, depending on how you use it.

  1. For some viewers, television has lived up to all expectations. Television can be a great information source–CNN, the Discovery Channel, PBS, and so on. You can use it to learn how to restore a house or cook a gourmet meal. News is at your fingertips. 24-hour weather channels are available. And so on and so on.

  2. At the same time, television has also been pulled down to a certain lowest-common-denominator level of superficiality, and this probably represents 80 or 90 percent of its use by most people–that is, it is used as the cheapest, silliest, and most superficial type of entertainment. Sitcoms. Endless sporting events. Soap operas. Jerry Springer. Judge Judy. Cartoons. Music videos. Made-for-television movies. Need I say more?

  3. At it’s worst, television has, for a certain part of the population, become a substitute for Real Life.An opiate of the masses. A drug that keeps them from realizing their full potential. A time-killer which detaches them from the real world and destroys real-life communities and relationships. I remember a national survey about a decade back which asked “Who are the five most important people in your life?” The survey included instructions to the effect that anyone could be listed–family members, historical figures, community leaders, etc. A horrendously large number of respondents listed television characters from sitcoms and soaps as the most important people in their lives.

I think that the internet is headed in the same direction. Paralleling the list above:

  1. There’s no denying the utility of the internet. E-mail alone has changed the nature of communication in the world. A certain level of research can be done almost instantaneously, millions of factoids are at everyone’s fingertips, and so on and so on (see all the other posts in this thread for the benefits of the internet). The immediacy and scope of the internet have brought about great increases in productivity for those who use the internet in this manner.

  2. There’s also a lowest-common-denominator aspect which has crept into the internet over time. Porn. Constructing and cruising silly personal web pages which are monuments only to the emptiness of people’s lives. Chat rooms where people blather endlessly solely for the purpose of blathering. On-line games. Research of trivia which is forgotten as quickly as it is found. And so on and so on. For people who use the internet for these purposes, the internet is just a substitute for TV. It’s just another form of easy entertainment competing for their time. As is the case for TV, this will probably become the most common use of the internet (if it hasn’t already).

  3. For some, as in the case of TV, the internet has become a substitute for Real Life. I’m sure we’ve all read stories of internet addicts who surf the net 20 hours a day while their health deteriorates and their lives wither away. But consider even more moderate uses of internet chat rooms and message boards: Although the internet is more interactive than TV (and thus it may provide more of a sense of activity and purpose to the user than sitting motionless on a couch in front of a TV), there’s still something fundamentally wrong with the picture of millions of people interacting with unseen, unknown, remote strangers on a message board through a computer screen when they could simply shut off the computer, walk outside, and interact with living, breathing human beings directly. To the extent that internet activities and relationships begin to crowd out or substitute for Real Life activities and relationships, I think this represents a problem.

Disclaimer: I’m not inveighing against moderate use of internet message boards. After all, here I am on an internet message board. I’m just pointing out that for a certain part of the population the internet has the potential to crowd out Real Life in the same sense and to the same degree that TV has turned part of the population into couch potatoes with no “real life” of their own.

Anyway, in summary, I think the internet is going the way of the TV: It will be an indispensable tool in every household. And it will be a great boon for those who choose to extract the best from it, a source of superficial entertainment for the majority of its users, and a substitute for real life for a certain portion of users.

In short, the Internet is as good or bad (as useful or as harmful) as the person who is using it.