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No utopia
Oct 27, 2006

I am continually forced to tell people not to put so much credence on what they read on the Internet.

It’s frustrating to have people come forward with some snippet gleaned from some website that they claim is fact when it’s actually unadulterated garbage.

Be suspicious when using the Internet as it’s filled with sites and blogs that are the domain of wackos, conspiracy theorists, political opportunists, bigots, racists, perverts, fanatics, terrorists,  etc. 

For example, I was recently shocked when told by someone I have known for a couple of years that the Holocaust was a myth.

“How do you know that?” I asked.

“Look on the Internet,” he replied. “It’s all there!”

All there? 

There is extensive documentation of Nazi  crimes since the Nazis were meticulous record keepers and these records have been published. Eyewitnesses from concentration camp inmates to guards have come forward with detailed information on the horrific treatment meted out as well as how the extermination process was carried out.

Despite the extensive published material, the only  information this individual believed was contained on some wacko Holocaust denial website. He actually had the audacity to mention several such websites  that I should check out to become informed about the so-called real truth of the Holocaust.

What poses as fact on the Internet is often propagated by those with an agenda to lure in the gullible. 

The greatest myth is the democratizing effect of the Internet. I’m not sure that I appreciate some non-expert jumping on the bandwagon and submitting entries to on-line encyclopedias with his or her supposed insights or lack thereof. It takes years and hundreds of experts in hundreds of different fields with degrees in these fields to compile the information found in the print version of the Encyclopedia Britannica. What makes anyone think that Joe Blow, who does not have to inform the public of his educational background or lack thereof, can inform you about the implications of the Charter of Rights and Freedoms on Canadian society or Einstein’s Theory of Relativity on world science. It’s  a crap-shoot that the information provided by Joe is anywhere near correct.

It was comforting to finally read an article that exposes the Internet’s downfalls and its inability to meet the exceedingly high expectations placed upon it when it first emerged. The only problem is that the article is contained within the pages of Maclean’s magazine; it’s doubtful the people who are in most need of its message will ever read the article — they’re usually too busy surfing the Net for their information, however bad and misinformed, about the cloistered world around them and probably wouldn’t bother to read anything in print.

The article, Pornography, Gambling, Lies, Theft and Terrorism: The Internet Sucks (Where Did We Go Wrong), serves as a guide for anyone using the Internet and its many toys, including e-mail, the most over hyped tool to hit cyberpace and one that has become the preferred medium for spammers and con artists trolling to find victims for their scams.

“The idealists who conceived and pioneered the Web described the kind of enlightened utopia built on mutual understanding, a world in which knowledge is limited only by one’s curiosity,” wrote the article’s author, Steve Maich. “Instead, we have constructed a virtual Wild West, where the masses indulge  their darkest vices, pirates of all kinds troll for victims, and the rest of us come to  accept that cyberspace isn’t the kind of place you’d want to raise your kids. The great multinational exchange of ideas and goodwill has devolved into a food fight. And the virtual marketplace is a great place to get robbed. The answers to the great questions of our world may be out there somewhere, but finding them will require you to first wade through an ocean of information, trivia and sludge.”

The article is right in describing the 

Internet as a “trillion-dollar disappointment,” and that hard information has been replaced by an era of uninformed amateur commentary to sway the opinions of the masses.

Outlining the views of Andrew Keen, author of The Culture of the Amateur, whom Maich describes as a former Internet entrepreneur turned heretic, the Maclean’s writer said, “The cult of the onslaught of blogs, wikis (Wikipedia-like sites) and social networking is destroying our culture by celebrating mediocrity and devaluing talent.”

Maich said that Keen had written, ironically on his own blog, “The cult of the 

amateur is digital utopian’s most seductive 

illusion ... It suggests, mistakenly, that everyone has something interesting to say.” 

The cult of the amateur is bad enough, but what Keen says about “devaluing talent” is even more scary. What incentive does an author or musician have to turn out the Canadian classic when his or her work will eventually be pirated and churned out on some website for free. Why buy a record or book when a novel or song is available gratis at the click of a mouse?

Arguing that musicians and authors can simply use the Internet to publish their works is a lot of hooey. A plethora of sites exist to pirate or share files of otherwise copyrighted material when  compared to the few where works are downloaded for a fee such as iTunes.

Print publishers jump into cyberspace simply because they are forced to follow an over-hyped trend that is a significant money-losing venture. The majority of advertisers know they get a bigger bang for their buck in a newspaper or magazine than what is received in the void of cyberspace (seven to one is normal).

There are still too many who feel the internet is a god and are destined to repeating the same mistakes over and over again. There has been another round of Internet website multi-million-dollar purchases such as YouTube, a site that primarily distributes copyrighted material without authorization, by Google, and MySpace, a money-losing social networking site, by NewsCorp. Have they not heard of the mid-2000 Internet collapse? Where will it end and sanity return?

Maick is right in musing about what else could have been done with all that time and money blown on the Internet.