I just finished David Wolman’s The Critics Need a Reboot. I personally found it a little ranty and a bit too dismissive of his critics. I’d be more impressed if he accused ‘net critics of conflating correlation with causation. But the overall impression I got is that the internet is on balance a positive influence because he says it is and provides anecdotes. That seems as strong as the case of others who point to different anecdotes and say the Internet is bad. Or no real case at all.
I think the Internet is more like Neuroderm posited in the 1951 story Dark Benediction by Walter M. Miller. Neuroderm is an infectious disease that rewired the human nervous system. In the story it’s developed that it was sent by an alien race as a gift, though that fact got lost because people opened the container of Neuroderm before RTM, er translating the warnings. The warning/caution said “Finder Things – What is contained in this vessel will help you do what you do best even better. Consider what is in your heart before opening.”
The implication is that if humanity were inclined towards exploration and kindness, Neuroderm would enable that to be done better and faster. And if we were inclined towards self-destruction, Neuroderm would get us where we were going faster. Neuroderm was simply an amplifier for what was in the human soul.
And that’s what I believe about the Internet, though like Mr. Wolman and his opponents, I have no research to back up my conclusions either. But when I look at the Zooniverse Project, Duolingo, and this MOOC promoting learning and fellowship on the one hand and then at Stormfront or men by the thousands threatening women online, Internet as Neuroderm amplifier is what I come up with.
To tie this post back to our course, I think the implication for librarians is that we ought to be familiar with the arguments for and against the power of the Internet because this will prepare us to respond to criticism from both sides. Then in dialog with our communities choose the best approach for us.