Renaissance Online Magazine Column

MAY 26, 2003

KEVIN RIDOLFI

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Internet bad habits are destroying the way we communicate.

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KEVIN RIDOLFI, a graphic designer and Web programmer from Pawtucket, Rhode Island, is the creator and editor of Renaissance Online Magazine.

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WAR OF THE WORDS
[ 1, 2, 3 ]

Low-Brow Usage and the Pornography Invasion
Users are barely scraping the surface of possibility and have low expectations for their own usage. The most common use of the Internet is pornography --it permeates the medium. This fact has not changed and, in fact, has become an ever greater infection. Search for virtually any topic in a search engine and you risk being exposed to unwanted filth.

A check of the most popular search engine keywords shows that Internet users are aiming more for carnal knowledge than cranial betterment. For the week of May 18, 2003, Yahoo lists Jennifer Lopez, Christina Aguilera and Britney Spears among its top 20 search terms despite the fact that none have had a new release since November 2002. Both Lopez and Spears have been listed in the top 20 for an astonishing 114 weeks. People aren't searching for these sex symbols to find out their touring schedules, especially since Aguilera is the only one currently on tour. All three are listed in the Lycos top 50 as well, joining hack "actress" Pamela Anderson, whose most famous role was on a bootleg sex video with her ex-husband Tommy Lee; style over substance TV personality Brooke Burke; and hack "athlete" Anna Kournikova, who is popular due to her backside not her back hand.

WordTracker.com, which tracks the most popular keywords entered in two of the world's largest search engines, which account for approximately 6 billion queries a day combined, further proves that the Web happily resides in the gutter. The following phrases -- some disturbingly perverse -- are all ranked in the top 300 over the last two months: kazaa, milf, lingerie, free games, literotica.com, sex, free music downloads, nude, lolita, kazaa lite, pictures, incest, voyeurweb.com, bikini, girls, lolitas, incest stories, beastiality, thongs, literotica, free music, xxx, porn, music downloads, girls gone wild, adult.

The common bond? Free sex and free music. I, for one, do not feel that mass distribution of porn and pirated music is the best usage of billions of dollars worth of technology.

Your Friendly Neighborhood Internet
The inherent "friendly" nature of the Internet remains in much the same blissfully ignorant state I criticized in May 2000. This is perfectly fine when using the medium as a communication tool between friends and family, but a distinction needs to be made between this type of realistically friendly communication and the corporate/research side of the medium that calls for a more formal, traditional approach.

Basically this is a seemingly simple matter of knowing your audience, which is a tenant of all good communication. People know the difference between talking to friends at a bar and talking to their boss; they should also know the difference between sending resumes to friends as opposed to possible employers.

Conclusions
In short, I still believe that the Internet is not being used to its full potential -- or even its originally intended purpose. It has settled for being largely just another expensive entertainment device, with its useful side being buried beneath an avalanche of filth, misinformation and misdirection. It can be changed, but only if we, the users, are willing to modify our behavior and the large computer companies are willing to push for an overhaul of the structure and organization of the Web. Until these things happen, we will continually suffer in our communication.

Our communication away from the Internet will continue to be influenced by its bad habits (overuse of short hand, inability to form sentences, disappearance of grammar, careless spelling). Comprehension will be blurred and misunderstanding will flourish. Subtext, metaphor and inflection will become lost arts, the lack of which will foster a world in which everything is either falsely read at face value or assumed meaning is attributed when it isn't there. There will be no non-verbal cues to help in the understanding of the words and true meaning will be lost.

These are extreme outcomes, but very distinct possibilities as each is already happening every day on smaller levels. Will we ever completely lose the ability to communicate as a result of the Internet? I don't think so. We'll just lose the ability to communicate effectively.

One only has to look at the scientifically predicted overthrow of the forefinger as our most important digit for an example of technology shaping human evolution. This finger has always been our most useful manual tool, used for dialing phones, ringing doorbells etc. Scientists, including Dr. Sadie Plant, who teaches cultural studies at Birmingham University and was named one of Time magazine's "People to Watch" in 2000, now believe that the thumb is rapidly becoming the tool of choice as use of video games and mobile technology grows.

This may seem like a small thing, but it does prove that technology and its tools, among which the Internet prominently sits, can indeed have a lasting, shaping effect on our humanity and nothing defines humanity more than our ability to form into communities and perform tasks through effective communication.

We need to take a stand and stop thumbing our noses at the very communication that defines us as a culture.

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