The Big, Bad Switch

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“We’re getting the power to wrap ourselves in our own custom-designed culture, our own tailor-made media cocoon.” ~Nicholas Carr, The Big Switch.

9.13.09 Though Carr’s article was rather pessimistic and I am not inclined to agree with all his points, I find one of his arguments particularly compelling. When he states that “Because we can ‘personalize’ [the Internet] to an extent that wasn’t possible with, say, newspapers or radio or TV, we’re getting the power to wrap ourselves in our own custom-designed culture, our own tailor-made media cocoon,” he strikes a chord that is all-too-familiar to my generation, though many of us may not realise it. Carr basically says that our way of interacting with the world, our ability to focus, even our very way of thinking has been altered as never before, and the positive results have yet to be seen.

For my own part, I used to only use the Internet for research or the occasional television rerun. I did not sign up for social sites such as MySpace or Facebook until my senior year. I read the newspaper almost every day and listened to the radio in the car, at home, and at work. Now, I often surf the Internet four or more hours a day, do not buy papers, and do not own a radio. Interestingly enough, I can’t put my finger on the exact moment when I made the switch to having the Internet as my main source of entertainment and communication.

As my Internet usage has increased, I’ve noticed a tendency towards a shorter attention span, both online and offline. I find myself doing homework while watching a movie or watching YouTube videos, and I often cannot focus on my homework unless there is music of some sort in the background. For someone who has always considered herself rather distanced from “pop culture,” I am a bit troubled to realize how much time I spend on Internet sites such as Facebook.

Besides my increased dependency on (in my opinion) rather frivolous Web sites, I have noticed other negative side effects of my own “Big Switch.” I find myself dreading communication with others, which is strange, as I’ve always been a pretty friendly person. Though the Internet cannot take all the credit for this, I feel that my dread at checking e-mails, Facebook notifications, and other Internet-based communication stems from an over-exposure to social interactions. All this (not to mention cell phones and Instant Messaging) means too many channels for too many people to contact a single person. It seems that there a growing lack of privacy and personal space because of these avenues of communication.

One of the most disturbing results of the Big Switch is the almost total elimination of news in my life. As a newspaper was not a practical thing to deliver to a dorm room, I did not have a weekly subscription to a paper, and the natural medium to turn to would be the Internet. However, I never felt like reading such articles as “5 More Die in Gang Violence” or “DOW Goes Down 5 Million,” so I simply did not. I was able to click on articles like “Last Harry Potter to be Made Into Two Movies” or “Newest Twilight Trailer Leaked” instead. Just as Carr puts it, I have been wrapping myself my “own tailor-made media cocoon.” People will mention the latest major stock market losses or more violence in Palestine, and I will have no idea what they are talking about, having read nothing about it on my Facebook news feed, a fact which I find very depressing but have made no attempts to ameliorate.

In the end, Carr  is correct in arguing that humanity is venturing into unknown waters when it comes to our society’s reaction to the Internet. I cannot say that my experience applies to everyone my age, and certainly not to all of the 6.3 billion people on the planet, but I can assert that the ramifications of our newest utility have sprung up exponentially fast and that they are by no means finished altering us. For now, I only hope that I can get off Facebook long enough to post this blog before the deadline…

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