Thursday, August 28, 2008

Internet Socializing and Loss of Community

Be warned, rambling be ahead.

Much has been made about the rise of the Web 2.0, focusing on the changeover to emphasizing social networking over knowledge or commerce in content. The rise of MySpace, Facebook, Twitter, and other sites has garnered a great deal of virtual print. Most kids have adopted living on the Net and so have young adults, but where does this take us as a society?

Back when AOL ruled the roost and Compuserve was still around, the World Wide Web was just getting going, with a little program called Mosaic being the first widely used web browser. It was followed by the dominant Netscape, which was then destroyed by Microsoft's late and desperate entry into the Web, Internet Explorer. Heady times, I remember when Yahoo first appeared and challenged my use of WebCrawler for a search engine. It was amazing, there were thousands of websites out there to search through. Seems silly to those used to tens of thousands of hits to a search these days, but at the time it was like looking at a newly opened frontier that was ready and waiting to be explored.

There was a fear that the newly popular form of communication, email, would turn us into anti-social shut-ins, never seeing the light of day for fear of bursting into flames. Then came a few studies that said people were communicating with each other more than ever thanks to the Web, families were being brought together, far off friends re-connected and we breathed a sigh of relief. Soon we had ICQ, then AIM, then YM and eventually MSM filling our quota of acronyms as the rise of instant messaging began to displace email. Writing emails became passe and the art of composition was sacrificed for LOL, BFF, IMHO and the other LOLspeak abbreviations and acronyms. Apparently the quota hadn't been fully met after all.

This still wasn't enough. No, we needed embarrassing pictures for future employers to see, connected to hordes of people across the globe on your very own personal networking sites. After all, reality television showed that we should all aspire to fame or infamy, attention is all that matters in life. Now everyone has their chance to be seen by an adoring world. Forget Warhol's fifteen minutes of fame, fifteen seconds on YouTube is where it is at. So the Web 2.0 is born, with people living their lives out there for everyone to see. Well, except for those hopelessly stone age parents who aren't hip enough to find out what their kids are doing online.

Is this a great advancement for humanity, with all this unprecedented connectivity between people from all around the globe? I have to wonder.

My experiences on the Net over the years have taken me from thinking it would civilize humanity more to the suspicion that it is achieving the opposite. While we have instances of atrocities being better documented in totalitarian states despite a mad scramble to censor and control information access, we are also witnessing the rise of the rude and uncompromising in every day discourse. The flame wars on message boards of the past have given way to deliberate segregation into cliques on the social networking sites. That way you don't have to worry about dealing with people with opposing viewpoints, don't have to practice manners. Not that people on message boards were much better about it, but now no attempt has to be made.

Essentially, what I have witnessed is things getting cruder, ruder, and more narcissistic with each passing year. People band together only with like minded thinkers and with the ability to filter out those who don't hold the same beliefs, basic discourse of the past is vanishing. Often politics has been criticized for becoming groups of people shouting past each other. That applies now to almost every facet of Net socializing, whether it be about politics, hobbies, sports, or movies.

Enabling one another, those who share a viewpoint begin to ignore or demonize those that disagree in a most high school manner. There is no need to interact with those that don't agree with you and soon you inhabit a nice little echo chamber, divorced from the rest of the world. At the same time, I'm witnessing this happen in real life as people are becoming less community minded and the decay of organizations such as the Knights of Columbus and various lodges comes to mind. Those were places where people from various incomes and walks of life could get together as equals, something valuable for any healthy society.

So we have these sites dedicated to creating "communities", but are they helping to build a sense of community? Or are they falsely encouraging a sense of elitism and entitlement? My suspicion is that they are assisting the break down in society by allowing people to escape the social obligations of dealing with the "other" in real life. After all, nobody likes being disagreed with and everyone who has a differing opinion is an idiot.

But it is dealing with those that we don't agree with, don't get along with, or don't usually run into that helps us mature into adults. A big part of adulthood is realizing that we can't get our way all the time (usually most of the time) and that the world is a much bigger place than what goes on inside our heads. That means cultivating manners and the ability to interact with people unlike us are necessary to keep the wheels of civilization turning, not to mention survive. Perpetual adolescence with its accompanying self absorbed personality and short fused temper is not desirable. It invariably leads to conflict and friction. Too much friction and the gears bind, followed by watching the wheels come off as you veer over a cliff.

There are other forces at work, of course. Western culture is increasingly adolescent for a variety of reasons, but I've rambled on enough as it is. Perhaps that will be a topic for another day.

Monday, August 25, 2008

Meanderings on a Monday

It is a tired Monday, the norm after a busy Sunday at church. Without any terribly coherent idea for a post, I decided to post a few observations on this and that.

Russia was stood up to diplomatically by most of the West, to my surprise. It looks like there are enough people left who remember the Cold War, thankfully. The forth coming arms race looks to be guaranteed, with Poland signing a deal to base US missile interceptors in exchange for Patriot surface-to-air missiles. I expect Ukraine and Georgia to end up in NATO eventually, if the Russian troops do withdraw completely. That is suspect, as their word means nothing at all. The Bear wants territory and control, with nukes being their big stick of late.

I recently received an email from ebaY titled "Dumb and poor? Here's a simple way to make MONEY!" This may be the most amusing piece of spam I've ever gotten. From capitalizing the wrong letter in eBay to insulting the recipient's intellectual capacity, it would appear to be the most ineffective come on in history. They failed to use at least three exclamation points, perhaps in a bid to look classy. But there will be thousands who will click on the thing, spam really does work, sadly.

I've been misidentifying a local woodchuck as a gopher of late and wish to apologize to the rodent. I had no intention of slandering your species and meant no ill will.

The Chicago Cubs are 30 games above .500 in a season when I've forgotten to seriously follow them. This clearly shows that they are better off without me.

Joe Biden as Democratic Party VP nominee is a gift to the Republican Party. Obama could have only done worse if he'd selected Cindy Sheehan. Watch for a lot of Hillary supporters to vote for McCain.

Democrats bashing teachers unions?! Along with the Cubs winning, this may be a sign of the end of times. Both are very unnatural.

Still don't miss satellite TV, having gone cold turkey beginning in February. Too many movies, old TV series and documentaries to catch up on at Netflix. Hopefully, I'll be able to start freeing up time for more reading. Okay, any reading.

Monday, August 11, 2008

Georgia on My Mind

Well, the Bear is back, Russia having invaded Georgia's break away provinces earlier this weekend, then rolling toward Tbilisi, the Georgian capitol today. Starting with a classic case of false provocation, Putin and his minions claimed they had to invade to protect Russian citizens in South Ossetia. South Ossetian seperatists had conducted escalating attacks, which finally resulted in Georgia sending their troops in. Since Russia funds and controls those seperatists, it is pretty clear that the Georgians stepped right into a classic Russian trap. It gave them the thinnest of excuses to invade and put President Saakashvili in his place for standing up to them.

It is clear that Putin and his puppet, Medvedev, intend to make an example of the former Soviet possession. My suspicion is that they intend to take the country, then install a puppet regime so that they can can achieve several goals. The most obvious is control of the oil pipeline that goes through Georgia to Turkey, giving Russia further control of fossil fuels in Europe; they control half the natural gas and a quarter of the oil already. The second is sending a message to the U.S. and Europe that they are in charge of Eastern Europe and to keep out. But the biggest reason is the most dangerous reason: the desire to subjugate former Soviet territories and rebuild the Soviet Union. This doesn't necessarilly mean a return to communism, it is about Russian power and pride, ie: nationalism.

If the West permits Georgia to fall (and I think we will), it will be only the beginning. Russia will wish to extend their power and other nations will start equipping for war. An arms race is probable, with Ukraine, Poland, and the Baltics leading the way, determined to not be slave states again. Unlike oil rich Russia, they will be more dependant on foreign aid, which we had better provide.

In the meantime, I'm wondering how long Georgia can hold out if Russia besieges the capital. Currently, the Russian Air Force owns the air, which gives them an immense advantage in addition to their larger ground forces. I hate watching a democratic country fall to a dictatorship and wonder if this is how people felt watching Hitler annex the Sudetenland in 1938, knowing that appeasement would only feed the nationalists.