There is a cynical slant to this piece, which the title gives away, but much of his logic and question are sound, it’s just the conclusions where he sometimes runs astray. I agree Marshall McLuhan was a lousy writer and a jumbled thinker, and technology revolutions tend to warp the idea of what a true revolution should bring. The Internet certainly has changed some things for the better, but it has had little effect on others (Are Americans happier or better educated on average than in 1994?).
Here are two choice quotes:
The Internet is not new anymore. It’s twenty years old. Commercial television was roughly two decades old in 1970; it was an established medium. No one then heralded TV as a revolutionary new technology. The Internet is not maturing. It is mature. TV’s programming and business models were rock solid in 1970; the new line up was always the old line up slightly modified. No one speculated seriously about any radical new broadcast TV format. Finally, the Internet has not “changed everything.” TV too was supposed to “change everything.” It didn’t. Rather, it altered what we did with our time. Before TV, the week had an extra twenty hours. TV took them away.
The suggestion being that the Internet mostly has taken those hours back from TV. We used to write letters, now its emails. We used to talk on the phone, now we use Facebook. There is more shifting than radicalizing or revolutionizing. Is the shift a revolution? depends on which part you care about: the means or the ends.
Think for a moment about what you do on the Internet. Not what you could do, but what you actually do. You email people you know. In an effort to broaden your horizons, you could send email to strangers in, say, China, but you don’t. You read the news. You could read newspapers from distant lands so as to broaden your horizons, but you usually don’t. You watch videos. There are a lot of high-minded educational videos available, but you probably prefer the ones featuring, say, snoring cats.
Why we don’t use the internet to the fullest is not a technological problem – it’s a cultural / personal problem each of us face that technology can’t solve for us. We had the same problem with typewriters and libraries. And we’ll always have it. Convenience is not always the problem that needs to be solved.
As Neil Postman suggested long ago, there are many kinds of problems technologies not only can’t solve, but have no effect on. If our view of life is tech-centric, we are blind to both the limited impact of technologies on those problems, and the problems themselves.
Read the essay: The Internet Changes Nothing. Worth the time to sort out where you agree and disagree with him.