The Internet Causes Idiots

This was all over Facebook today, mostly approvingly, and these are the parts that made me ragey:

The trends are not encouraging. In 1978, 42 per cent of Americans reported that they had read 11 or more books in the past year. In 2014, just 28 per cent can say the same, while 23 per cent proudly admit to not having read even one, up from eight per cent in 1978. Newspaper and magazine circulation continues to decline sharply, as does viewership for cable news. The three big network supper-hour shows drew a combined average audience of 22.6 million in 2013, down from 52 million in 1980. While 82 per cent of Americans now say they seek out news digitally, the quality of the information they’re getting is suspect. Among current affairs websites, Buzzfeed logs almost as many monthly hits as the Washington Post.

Buzzfeed is hardly just a current affairs website, and last I checked did not swallow whole the contention that there were weapons of mass destruction in Iraq that justified going to war, so maybe let up on the home of quizzes about what kind of kitten you are.

Newspapers, magazines and cable news are largely responsible for aiding and abetting the dumbing down the rest of the article laments. Giving time and ink to climate change deniers, gun nuts, anti-evolution whackjobs, outright white supremacists and pundits who last had an original thought in 1987 (and killed it in its cradle immediately) is what got us into this mess. Newspapers, magazines and cable news are prime conduits for the kind of “both sides do it” cynical equivalence that leads people who’d otherwise discern the difference between idiocy and intelligence to just throw up their hands in frustration. When the New York Times is peddling he said she said who can really tell anyway, pardon me if I decide that everyone sucks, but most especially the paper of record.

But hey, it must be the Internet’s fault:

The digital revolution, which has brought boundless access to information and entertainment choices, has somehow only enhanced the lowest common denominators—LOL cat videos and the Kardashians. Instead of educating themselves via the Internet, most people simply use it to validate what they already suspect, wish or believe to be true. It creates an online environment where Jenny McCarthy, a former Playboy model with a high school education, can become a worldwide leader of the anti-vaccination movement, naysaying the advice of medical professionals.

The Internet did not make Jenny McCarthy a leader of the anti-vaccination movement. The anti-vaccination movement did that. Nor did the Internet pay Jenny McCarthy tens of thousands of dollars to write a column in — you guessed it! — a major metropolitan newspaper. You’ll pardon me if I stick with Buzzfeed.

Also, here are some numbers that prove that NO SIR.

This gets closer to the heart of things:

A study by two Princeton University researchers, Martin Gilens and Benjamin Page, released last month, tracked 1,800 U.S. policy changes between 1981 and 2002, and compared the outcome with the expressed preferences of median-income Americans, the affluent, business interests and powerful lobbies. They concluded that average citizens “have little or no independent influence” on policy in the U.S., while the rich and their hired mouthpieces routinely get their way. “The majority does not rule,” they wrote.

But why talk about the money and who’s spending it and who’s raking it in when you can hate on the Kardashians and LOLcats?

Talk about a dumbing-down.


8 thoughts on “The Internet Causes Idiots

  1. Here’s the thing – while I don’t honestly remember whether I’ve read a book this year or not, I’ve read at the very least one long-form (like minimum 2000+ words) article or blog post a week every week this year, whether I’ve actually gotten off my ass and written something for FD about it or not (I’ll have something up about this week’s later today, I swear). That’s definitely not a thing I even had access to pre-interbutts. I’m also slowly working my way through The Wire, which is honestly far more intellectually stimulating in each of its single hour episodes than the Hunger Games were in the like three hours it took me to blow through that book.
    Some people will be intellectually lazy regardless of the mediums available to them. Some people will be intellectually curious regardless of the mediums available to them. SOME OF US LIKE TO DO BOTH: when I get done reading articles exploring the sociological implications of the purchases of the working poor because I want to be a well-informed responsible citizen who looks at causes rather than symptoms, I go look at pictures of dogs because I like dogs.

  2. The truly scary part to my eyes is this:
    The good news, such as it was in the AP poll, was that 69 per cent actually believe in DNA…
    Insert your preferred method to type the sensation of a brain swallowing its own tongue in befuddlement here.
    That’s like saying you don’t believe in oxygen, but rather invisible magic life beads that must be regularly inhaled to prevent your health meter from reaching zero.
    To paraphrase Neil DeGrasse Tyson: The universe is under no obligation to bend to your beliefs.

  3. Also, remember that Oprah gave Jenny McCarthy a continuing soap box to preach her dangerous bullshit. Still waiting for Oprah to apologize for that one.

  4. The dumbing down started in earnest in the 1980s when the Reagan administration began its policy of rewarding journalists for good coverage and punishing them for bad coverage. It was usually a graded response, with party invitations first to go, then bad seats and no questions, then moving on to denial of credentials. Before then, the press was just something presidents had to endure, but Reagan ended that policy.
    By the 1990s, the news bureaus were cutting staff and dropping stringers. By the turn of the century, the evening news coverage and mainstream press had all the bite and inquisitiveness of Soviet Life. (Mind you, Soviet Life probably looks hard hitting compared to the Russian media today.) Surely you remember the big network news story on 9/10/2001. It was sharks off the coast of Florida, with video. Network news was anticipating Youtube, and now they complain about it.

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