Robert’s column

Robert’s column

Robert Barron column: Internet not fulfilling its potential

It’s becoming apparent that this is causing problems at every level of our society

The first time I ever heard of the internet was way back in the early 1990s, soon after I took my first job as a reporter.

I was invited to a local high school by the principal who told me he wanted to show me the latest in communication technology that had recently been introduced at his school.

When I got there, the principal said that a number of years before, the U.S. military had developed a system in which computers could tap into and access the information on other computers to make the gathering of intelligence much quicker and easier.

He said the technology was now available for civilian uses, and the school had installed the system on one of its computers so the students could access and learn to use it.

Due to a lack of imagination at the time, I failed (and so did the principal I believe) to understand the earth-shattering implications of this latest addition to computer technology.

Sitting there poking at the computer keys to get a sense on how the internet works, we both discussed how doing research for projects and papers for school would be much more efficient for students with the new system, but we really weren’t comprehending the full potential of it.

At the time, I was working in a one-person office and my computer was little more than an elaborate typewriter with spell check.

Any background research for the stories I wrote usually came from poring over old newspapers that were bound and filed to date in my office, and calling numerous people in the community who had some history pertaining to the issues I was covering.

It was a long and tedious process, but that was what was required to get the most accurate and up-to-date stories I could.

Then I would have to transfer my stories from the computer onto a disk once a week and drive more than 70 kilometres in sometimes severe weather conditions to get to the main office in another community, and then transfer the stories from the disk back onto another computer that had connections to the production facility where the paper was laid out and sent to print.

After working with the internet for several decades now, I can’t imagine how I got anything done at all without access to the technology.

Almost all the background information I need for my stories can now be found by using the internet, and past stories I and others have written on any subject can be accessed by just typing in a few familiar words into a search engine.

When the full potential of the technology became apparent, I was optimistic that it could only be good for humanity as people would be much better informed on any issue that interested them and that would lead to better decision making and an improved world for everyone.

But, unfortunately, it appears that the exact opposite is happening.

It turns out that many, if not the majority, of internet users prefer to seek out “information” on the internet that only backs their views on the issues they are concerned about, while dismissing any information that is contrary to that.

That has played a big part in the increasing polarization of our society.

It used to be that the main source of information for almost everybody was television news and newspapers that are typically prepared and presented by objective reporters who make it a point to ensure all sides of any issue are presented and it is left to the audience to determine where they stand on the topic in question.

Those days are gone and now most can’t even agree on the basic facts of any issue anymore, much less debate its finer details.

It’s becoming apparent that this is causing problems at every level of our society, and the future is getting more worrisome as we go.

What I once thought was a wonder tool that would transform the world into a better place is not doing that at all.

I want my typewriter back more every day.



robert.barron@cowichanvalleycitizen.com

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