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The Internet

Friday, June 20th, 2008

Have you ever wondered what computers (in general) and the Internet (specifically) are doing to your brain?

I know I have — more and more lately.

The effects on us in general are, of course, innumerable — positive and negative. In this post, would like to mention a couple of the negative effects because these are what I’ve been thinking about recently.

The first — and probably most obvious — thing it’s done is to deal a serious blow to punctuation. What used to be as natural as breathing is now something I have to consciously mull over. I’m not the only one. Why else would a rant on punctuation become a huge bestseller? I doubt that’s happened before.

Well, now that I say that, I can think of a dozen reasons for it selling so well. Including the fact that it’s a fast and somewhat easy way for people to work up some self-righteous indignation and offers a pseudo-intellectual excuse for scoffing at your fellow man and woman. But that’s being cynical. I’ve been known to write to newspapers and magazines for various punctuation and where’s-the-proofreader-type offenses myself. Incredibley, they always take the time to write back. It’s great fun. (No, I’m not an eighty-year-old, retired school teacher… I’ve been doing this sort of thing since I was a teenager.)

(And no, I’m not counting that other huge bestseller Elements of Style because it’s also about, well… style!)

But I digress…

To me, punctuation is as vital to writing as timing is for a comedian, as breathing is for a singer. Punctuation controls exactly those things in a written text. It gives emphasis to certain words or phrases, gives sentences rhythm, shape and style. Punctuation by itself can change meaning, add suspense, make us laugh. It helps us hear the intonations and personality in the voice of the writer.

So when someone sends me an email with no visible effort at punctuation, or I read an comma-free newspaper article, I just want to scream and stick my head in a salad spinner.

Another thing that concerns me is how the Internet affects my reading, thinking and writing. It does, I can feel it and see it. Interestingly, there’s an excellent article in the Atlantic on exactly this subject.

Thankfully, for myself, I find the effects are not permanent; when I break the trance, stand up and walk away, I slowly begin to regain my normal faculties. (It helps if you shake your head in the manner of a water-soaked dog.) But what about society and culture as a whole? What about people who grew up with the Internet? Can the media actually become even shallower? Will this have a detrimental effect on books and writing? Is this already happening? Hard to imagine shallower, more simplified ways of thinking being a good thing for humanity.

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The KFC Origin of Starbucks Species by Chuck E. Cheese Darwin

Sunday, February 10th, 2008

Product Placement.

I still remember it: I was sixteen, sitting in the movie theatre, watching an unbearably sad movie. She loved him, he died violently and unexpectedly. She has been walking around numb for months when one day she reaches, without thinking, for a CD.

We know what she’s going to do. She’s going to listen to it — their song. I started to tear up, Oh God, how would we bear it?!? She pops it into the stereo and just as the heart-shattering first chords begin, I see through my tears, not our beloved heroine’s face revealing the state of her anguished heart, but a full screen close up of her CD player. “SONY!!!!” it screamed in letters that loomed above me, four feet tall and twelve feet wide.

“What the f—?”

Now, I’m not unrealistic about the world. I know that advertising very often pays the bills. But am I the only one that thinks things are a bit out of control? Hamlet, head to toe in designer clothing labels, sporting a fetching Gucci handbag, waving a Big Mac around instead of Yorick’s skull. Ahab obsessed with an iPod wearing whale. I’m probably giving these people ideas… What happened to restraint? Subtlety?

And look what I found in an archeology article:

The earliest known shoes, rope sandals that attached to the feet with string, date to only around 10,000 B.C. For the new study, the clues were in middle toe bones that change during an individual’s lifetime if the person wears shoes a lot.

“When you walk barefoot, your middle toes curl into the ground to give you traction as you push off,” explained co-author Erik Trinkaus, who worked on the study with Hong Shang.

“If you regularly wear Nikes, moccasins or any other type of shoe, you actually wind up pushing off with your big toe, with less force going through the middle toes,” added Trinkaus, a Washington University anthropologist who is one of the world’s leading experts on early human evolution.

Whoah! Hold on a minute! “Nikes, moccasins or any other type of shoe…” Nike is not a type of shoe, it’s a BRAND. Sandals, slippers, flip-flops — these are types of shoes. At least they could be logically correct. How much do you think they got for that? It’s unbelievable that newspapers don’t have a version of the American Society of Magazine Editors guidelines.

Even if they don’t care about the fact that we are exhausted by the tsunami of advertising that is our daily lives, perhaps they might consider that editorial product placement in articles just might undermine our confidence in the rest of the information offered.

Next thing you know you’ll buy a copy of Darwin’s The Evolution of Species and discover that the Western Galapagos finches evolved his unique L-shaped, six-sided beak so that they could better assemble IKEA furniture.

finches sell out

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