The Internet’s Information Deficit

Do you remember the incredible thrill you felt the first time you hooked up to the World Wide Web? Think back. Can you recall that feeling of — for lack of a better word — connection? That sense of being part of something so vast, so global, so post-modern?

Great. Now, those of you who answered yes, can you remember the incredible irritation you felt the first time you were knocked offline “due to inactivity?”

Not Cool Enough

What’s that? You say you weren’t inactive at all? Ah, you were doing something the World Wide Web isn’t really geared for: in-depth reading. Well, that didn’t last long, did it? After the initial excitement of being connected waned — if your experience mirrors mine — you found that surfing for the pure joy of it lost its zing, and it became increasingly challenging to find something interesting enough to hold your attention.

You had just gotten settled in, and barely had any time to enjoy feeling smug and superior to those friends of yours who didn’t have computers, when you discovered that, really, you were not quite hip enough to be part of the cool new Internet crowd, right? Me, too.

The Gilligan Factor

This is hardly news to those who charted the Internet’s early, altruistic course. Web pioneers have repeatedly bemoaned the overwhelmingly commercial and pop culture path the Internet has taken, but their complaints have registered little effect.

Initially, it seemed as though the Web would become an unlimited repository for immeasurable quantities of information on an infinite number of subjects. Sometimes it seems as though the Internet is fulfilling that promise. But if you look at what ostensibly should be one of the Internet’s greatest strengths — in-depth, historical research — you will find that the Web is not even close to fulfilling those early dreams.

Instead, experts are telling us that the Internet is making us forget our sense of history. It is sapping our appreciation of anything and anyone who came before 1995, when the Web first earnestly began bumping Gilligan, Fonzie and the Beav out of the pop culture limelight in favor of Yahoo!, Google and Dogpile.

One-Stop Shopping

Forget attention deficit disorder (ADD) — now we have short-term memory caused by lazy Internet surfing (STMLIS). Old-timers may experience loss of memory due to various conditions, but the Internet generation won’t have any memory to lose — at least when it comes to history’s long view.

This turn of events is partly because the Internet is so alluring to the lazy genes that all humans carry. It is so easy to do all your one-stop research on the Internet; books are heavy, after all, and the mouse is so light. If it isn’t on the Internet, it isn’t worth knowing.

But, there is quite a bit that isn’t there. In fact — well, most of human history.

Supply and Demand

The main reason, of course, is economic. It is expensive to convert text documents into Internet language, and if there is no way to make a profit from the demand, there won’t be a supply.

How many teenagers want to read the complete works of Chaucer? More importantly, who would fork over the money to make sure the complete works of Chaucer are on the Internet in case a teenager wants to read them? Just think of the e-commerce opportunities.

History has no value on the Internet. At least television airs old movies and series, which is how most of us who grew up in the 1950s, 60s and 70s learned what little history we still remember.

Peace and Love, not War

Try researching history on the Internet and you will find that the older the topic, the less information is there. A standard search on Yahoo! revealed 139 sites on Woodstock, the 1960s rock festival — more than the Spanish American War, the War of 1812, the Hundred-Year War and the French Revolution combined!

Bill Clinton has more Web sites than Abraham Lincoln. Stephen King tromps William Faulkner, Herman Melville and Nathaniel Hawthorne. Newt Gingrich ties with Aaron Burr, but the real Don Juan loses to modern day heartthrob Johnny Depp, who played him — sort of — in the movies.

If you want history, I guess you’ll have to resort to an actual book. You may feel a bit out of it as you settle into a comfortable chair and rest its heavy weight against your knees. But look at the bright side — you can read for as long as your heart desires, and no one will knock you off the page.

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