What’s It Done To You?

As I study for my TV Production midterm fifteen minutes before I’m supposed to take it, I’m gonna write out the essay portion on my blog to see what kind of grade I’m likely to get.
Computers are not what they used to be some 50 years ago. Before the advent of the Internet, e-mail, and Facebook, computers were thought of more so as assistants in business operations, like heavy math and number crunching. While long-distance communication is synonymous with big business now, back then that task was delegated to phones and wire services. The UNIVAC for example, the first commercially available computer, was designed for the American Census bureau’s ponderous task of managing the exploding US population of the 1950s (the baby boom). 
The advent of the Internet changed that, as did the introduction of IBM’s personal computer in 1981. Computers now became communicators, in the truest sense of the world – you could whisk off an e-mail to a friend or colleague halfway around the world! You could watch live streaming video of an oil leak being repaired (BP, anyone?)! And sure enough, the fad caught on after the founding of the World Wide Web in Geneva in 1993: 536,564,837 users, and that’s only the English market (top usage group, right above Chinese and Spanish). And for what? Well, social networking is definitely one: Facebook is the number one most used website on the net. Downloading of music files, research for a job, instant messaging, sports scores; all these are also common uses. 
And how has that changed human culture? Let’s go from small to big. Because the Internet is only accessible through a computer, or computer-like device, statistics about computer usage go hand-in-hand with statistics about Internet usage – those ages 8 to 18 spend about seven and half hours with computer-like devices, consuming eleven and a half hours worth of media (e.g. music) due to multitasking. So it’s safe to say that we spend a lot of our time “plugged in” (NYTimes.com). And that’s been met with criticism over the years – an article from The Economist cites an author who says “hypermedia” (the act of clicking, skipping, skimming) is beginning to impair long-term memory consolidation. Because the Internet is composed of a plethora of links with small bits of content, short-term memory is most at work on the net.
I’d definitely agree with the idea that we spend a lot of time on the computer, and I can sympathize with the memory effects. Why is it that school research projects are done the Net? Because for many, the thought of leaving your desk chair – your comfortable throne overseeing the great WWW – to go to the library or to conduct real research for a topic you probably don’t care much for – “Civil War correspondents”, anyone? – is daunting. That’s not necessarily bad, though – information on the Net is expanse, and expanding. The attractiveness of publishing a newspaper online, for example, as opposed to doing so in print, is the reason why getting news online is viable and stimulating. You can’t play videos, slideshows, and audio on a piece of paper, but you can on a computer monitor (and speakers). Thus, there’s justification for the Internet researcher. 
So, we spend a lot of time at the computer, and the computer essentially equals, at the Internet. It may keep us plugged in, it may offer a comfortable shroud from talking to people, from social activity, from family time – and yet, it’s one of the fastest growing, most varied (and yet not wholly reliable) sources of information. A double-edged sword of a communicator, in the truest sense of each term. That’s the Internet for you.
What do ya think? Wish me luck!

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