Nation Wide Wi-Fi & Where It Will Take Us
Hat-tip to Macht of Prosthesis for alerting me to the following story and supplying the Quentin Schultze quotation I've used:San Francisco Mayor Gavin Newsom, who became internationally known for his campaign a year ago to legalise gay marriage, said on Monday he considered wireless Internet access a fundamental right of all citizens.
"It is to me a fundamental right to have access universally to information," Newsom told a news conference at San Francisco's City Hall, "this is a civil rights issue as much as anything else."
Though Newsom stresses that this is nothing more than his personal opinion, (i.e. "It is to me a fundamental right...") he continues his history of imposing personal views on others and plucking previously non-existent civil rights out of the air.
Nevertheless, this post is not a critique of Mayor Newsom or his history. Neither is it an evaluation of Wi-Fi as a civil right. Rather, I intend to convey two concerns I have regarding constant access to the Internet: intellectual isolation and societal stupidification.
Social isolation is universally recognized as a symptom of technology. Yet intellectual isolation is less well known—partly because it requires nearly constant access to the Internet. Quentin Schultze in his book, Habits of the High-Tech Heart, argues that the constant "collection and dissemination of information" offered by the Internet teaches us to be "impersonal observers" of the world, rather than "intimate participants." And because of this, "[w]e become informational voyeurs of life rather than responsible participants in the knowing of our own cultures and communities."
In essence Mr. Schultze is arguing that constant Internet access allows us to know all about people or things (think celebrities, sports teams, vacation spots, iPods, etc.), but without actually knowing them. It allows us to possess the superficial "knowing" that information provides without the deeper knowledge that "experience" provides.
This isolation is augmented once we begin fully relying on the Internet for information and cease interacting with people.
However, my greatest concern is the potential for societal stupidification. Constant access to information will create people whose brains are on the Internet. In other words, the storage space in our minds will be reserved for knowledge of "where-to-find-what" on the web, with little actual content retained. Once Internet access becomes constant the logical question becomes, "Why commit anything to memory when I can just Google it?"
Why bother to teach yourself how to replace a tire if step-by-step instructions are constantly available using nation-wide Wi-Fi? If your cellphone and laptop become constant sources of all necessary information, why memorize anything but your girlfriend's name?
The truth is that we only memorize what we fear we'll forget. Constant access to the Internet eliminates the need to remember anything—accept how to find information on the Internet.
The scary question becomes: When these high-tech luxuries are taken away, perhaps as the result of a natural disaster such as Hurricane Katrina, how will we cope? And more importantly, what will we really know?