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  • Aug 17th, 2011 @ 3:55pm

    Re: Re: "Pigs Fly!" Film at 11

    Mike says, "So we should just your opinion, rather than the data?"

    Mike, I think you meant to say, "So we should just [accept] your opinion, rather than the data?"

    I have written no papers and have done no explicit research on whether the Internet and television are making everyone smarter, so how do I respond cogently and in fewer words than a dissertation? I can offer a number of personally observed data points and I can offer the wisdom of others. Allow me to present exhibit 1, part of FCC chairman Newton N. Minow's famous 1961 "vast wasteland" speech (

    "I invite each of you to sit down in front of your own television set when your station goes on the air and stay there, for a day, without a book, without a magazine, without a newspaper, without a profit and loss sheet or a rating book to distract you. Keep your eyes glued to that set until the station signs off. I can assure you that what you will observe is a vast wasteland."

    I often wonder what Mr. Minow thinks, fifty years hence, about his "vast wasteland" speech. The number of channels has increased from about three to hundreds, yet the intellectual content of all those channels continues to approach zero asymptotically. Even my all-time favorite program, Nova (PBS), seems to be struggling to find content. If Nova is struggling for content, it surely is not from a lack of suitable subjects!

    I have been on the Internet since 1993. When I first began to read Usenet news, I was appalled to discover the level of vitriol in many of the postings, but I was even more dismayed at the level to which written English had fallen: lousy structure, syntax, spelling, the inability of many, many writers to distinguish between their/there, its/it's, to/too, and the list goes on and on.

    Eighteen years (nearly a generation) later, I see no noticeable improvement in written English among those Internet users who appear to be native English speakers. If some source or sources have made everyone smarter, where is the evidence?

    I taught a college introductory programming class for a number of semesters. In two instances (different semesters), I saw a student try to take the sine of (say) 37 degrees Fahrenheit. Think about that for a moment. Sometimes I lie awake at night thinking about that twisted logic. Is the sine of 37 degrees Fahrenheit equal to the cosine of 37 degrees Celsius? Did these students learn their pre-college trigonometry from tv or from the Internet?

    I have participated in interviewing many, many people for technical jobs. One young lady interested in a computer operator position tried to impress us with her experience in using [sic] "backup tape cartilages." When I moved to a systems engineering position, I was frankly shocked to see the poor level of mastery of English among the people we interviewed for positions within our group. Did these people, some of whom were technically qualified, learn their English from tv or from the Internet?

    When I was in high school, I discovered a particular magazine (perhaps you can guess its name from the following clues) in the school library. This magazine carried articles which I often couldn't understand in spite of the excellent writing and illustrations. (No, it isn't Playboy.) After obtaining two technical degrees in college, I subscribed to this magazine when I discovered I could now understand many of the articles. After enjoying this magazine for years, I was disturbed beyond words to discover in the mid-1990s that the publisher was dumbing down its content. No longer were articles written by holders of PhDs, they were written by journalists. No longer were the columns written by people you had heard of had you been paying attention in class. This was, sadly, my first personally observed data point on the dumbing down of America.

    I'd be willing to bet that everyone reading this post can contribute his or her own data point on the dumbing down of America. If tv and the Internet have made everyone smarter, why is America being dumbed down so successfully?

    Mike, I refute your one data point ("Could The Internet & Television Be Making Everyone Smarter?") with nearly 30 years of personally observed data points that represent, sadly, the contrary position, and I enlist Mr. Minow in the defense of that position.

    I apologize for the length of this posting and sincerely hope I have made my point. If you think I have missed the boat (and that is, of course, entirely possible), I would enjoy reading your rebuttal.

  • Aug 15th, 2011 @ 3:20pm

    "Pigs Fly!" Film at 11

    In spite of being a big fan of Mike, I think he's missed the boat on "Could The Internet & Television Be Making Everyone Smarter?"

    IMHO, entertainment engenders brain rot. Constant entertainment (irrespective of the source) leads to complete brain rot.

    From having taught part time in two colleges and from having interviewed a number of potential job applicants, I really see no evidence to conclude that people are smarter now than, say, twenty years ago; I would, alas, reach the opposite conclusion.

  • Mar 24th, 2011 @ 8:18am

    phone vs. IM

    Phone calls have been replaced, in large measure, where I work by an instant messenger app. IM results in large numbers of people thinking you need to respond to them instantly! The phone, OTOH, still gives a busy signal when a second caller tries to reach me.

    I'll stick with the phone, thank you very much.

  • Dec 31st, 2010 @ 12:14pm

    New Year's Message: From Pessimism To Optimism

    I didn't see pessimism on Mike's part, but I surely felt it.

    I did 650 hours of research for a National Park Service cold war web site in the early 2000s. At the end of that work, I felt dirty from discovering a lot of ugly, nasty stuff our government had done during the cold war.

    I'm beginning to feel the same way now with the techdirt revelations of how our government has been taken over by moneyed interests. I see no hope for the future.