Today, I'll be taking up the next four things on the Newsweek list of Things the Internet Has Killed. These are civility, the CD, the phone book, and letter writing.
If you missed it, the first post is here.
Civility- At first thought, this one is a no-brainer. But upon reflection, I'm not so sure the internet is completely at fault for the loss of civility in our society. I think the series of events and trends that started the process rolling go back as far as one can see, and certainly back to the 1960s.
Another major player in the loss of civility can certainly be laid at the feet of talk radio. But if you look at the early pioneers of talk radio, such as Rush Limbaugh, you don't have to look hard to see that what he was doing back in the late 1980s and early 1990s was a response to a lack of civility in the media, particularly television 'news' programs; he didn't create the incivility himself. Rush has certainly been on the cutting edge of the new style of radio entertainment, and has spawned entire industries of the same, both on the right and on the left (though the left has really struggled to pay the bills with their version of talk radio).
The early days of the internet, with its bulletin board discussion groups and the like, gave birth to the anonymous online personality. It didn't take long, with the popularity of the early ISPs such as CompuServe (CS) and AmericaOnline (AOL), for this idea to become common in the general public. Just like how the anonymity of being in a vehicle increases the risk of actions like road rage, the even more anonymous anonymity of the online world made polite discourse nothing more than a nuisance to many. Today, I can't even pull up a YouTube video to show my kids for fear of all the obscenity in the comments, right there on the page. As G. K. Chesterton once said, total depravity is the one aspect of Scripture that is empirically verifiable. He was right. Look no further than the comments posted on most popular blogs.
The CD- If you are my age (46), the CD came along late enough in life, and lasted long enough, that is is a surprise to many that is is already becoming obsolete. At least, the store-bought kind is becomming obsolete. Now that I can download songs for 99 cents from Amazon.com, I don't bother buying albums any more. Why pay ten or twelve bucks for an album with two or three good songs? Now I can get the ones I want without all the fluff and filler. But since I drive an older car, with no USB port, I have to burn these to a blank CD to listen to them when I'm on the road. So that part of the CD market is still alive, at least until automobiles are all connected to the web (which is already happening) or have sound systems designed for the newer media, like Ipods and such (which is really already happening).
I do wonder, though, if the demise of all hard media will last. After all, solid-state drives (things like USB thumb-drives and the memory inside your Ipod or MP3 player) haven't been around very long, and the durability over time of these types of storage is really not well known. How many fifty-thousand-song MP3 collections have to disappear before everybody starts keeping hard-copy backups? At the rate that online videos, music, and similar productions are growing, keeping up with all the backups will be a major industry unto itself. Blank CDs will certainly be a part of this (I'm including DVDs under the label CD here.)
The Telephone Book- This is actually one of the few things that I'm glad to see die. Just recently, I was contacted by AT&T Yellow Pages about renewing my ad with them. (I run the typical ad for a college/university for my work.) I gleefully told them I had bought my last YP ad and they need not bother contacting me again in the future. They didn't seem surprised. My ad cost me just under $2000 a year, and I'm not sure anyone ever saw it. Back in the 'old days', when you opened the phone book when you needed to find any kind of business or institution, a phone book ad was essential. These days, I don't know if anyone under my age ever picks one up. I've read statistics in several recent reports showing that almost all phone number searching, as well as business address searching, is done online.
I was recently at the Wayland Baptist main campus down in Plainview for a meeting. In the area where student mailboxes are, they stacked close to a thousand copies of the yellow pages. That was done several months ago, as I happened to be on campus when they were unloading them. When I was back the other day, it was hard to tell that a single copy had been picked up by the students. They just aren't interested in such a throwback to their grandparents' world.
Now, with smartphones, one does not even need to dial information (which costs money)...instead, one can browse the internet (for free) for the number. The phone book is indeed dead.
Letter Writing- Unlike the proverbial warning on your passenger mirror, this one is bigger than it appears. As a college instructor for years, I often wondered why people couldn't write. It wasn't long before I realized that folks couldn't write for two simple reasons: they don't write, and they don't read.
I've believe for a long time that people write at their basic reading level. That is, if you read comic books and pulp fiction, you write like those, and if you read Tolstoy and Shakespeare, or the Bible, you write at a level considerably higher than the comic book crowd. Throw on top of the fact that most students don't read anymore (they watch TV or play video games instead), the secondary fact that the bulk of the writing done by most people of school age now is in the form of 140-characters-or-less text messages. That certainly explains why essay questions on tests never go past two or three sentences...nobody can think that far out. (I wonder what this has done to people's ability to play chess?)
One of the main reasons I started this blog was because I thought I was losing some of my ability to communicate effectively in writing. Here's my first post, hinting at this reason. Over the past year-and-a-half, my writing ability has certainly been helped by writing this blog, and I've been able to remember a lot of stuff I thought I'd forgotten about spelling, grammar, and all the other minutia of writing.
I would encourage everyone who cares about their ability to communicate or wants to keep their mind sharp to start a blog. Maybe no one will ever read it (I don't think I have much of a following yet), but it will be beneficial to you to think, to put your thought into writing where others can challenge them, and then to defend (or change your mind about) the things you've written.
More in a few days.