The home of Uncommon Sense: Providing Clarity, Promoting Intelligence

The Internet and its Unintended Consequences

There is an old saying that’s been around for a while: “Be careful what you wish for.” There are times that we wish for things, and actually attain things, that may seem like a good idea at the time, but then we end up regretting the decision. That is because often times there are unintended consequences that we couldn’t possibly anticipate.

Leaders often face a similar phenomenon. Leaders look at the past, using their memory and taking into account history, things that are known, and then they also look forward into the future. But their memory is powerless to see into the future. Instead, they have to use their imagination; they have to intuit the future, an entity that is opaque. And so leaders make their best guess as to what their vision should be. And things rarely play out precisely as they expected, but even when they do, there can be unintended consequences lurking in the shadows.

There have been profound discoveries, inventions, and breakthroughs throughout the history of this earth – and some of them have completely transformed what was into a whole new construct. Fire, as an invention is one of those. (Truthfully, fire is an element, not an invention, but one could argue persuasively that fire is an invention in terms of its utilitarian elements, i.e., using fire for light, for warmth, for cooking food, and as a weapon). Gutenberg’s Printing Press with Moveable Type was another profound invention which changed entire societies from a structure based on an oral tradition to one based on a written tradition. The compass was another profound invention, along with the stirrup and how it changed the very nature of warfare, as soldiers could, for the first time, wage battle while on horseback. The mechanical clock, invented by Benedictine Monks in their monasteries so they could keep track of the exact times they were to say their prayers, spilled outside the confines of the monasteries and into the general population, which transformed how we structure our lives.

The internet is one such transformative invention. The internet rivals the printing press in terms of its significance. The internet has been responsible for the democratization of knowledge. Right now, if someone wants to understand something unique to the world of classical music, such as the difference between a Concerto and a Sonata, they can go to Google enter the proper search terms, and they have instantly have access to over 18 million “hits” that discuss the question. And that is true whether the person lives in Canada, or Croatia, in Nepal or New Guinea, in South Korea or Singapore.

The internet was meant to bring greater connectivity (and connection) to the world. But has it done so? With the advent of social media, such as Facebook, we seem quite divided. I myself am currently debating a man whom I don’t know named Russell. He is busy promoting things that denigrate my most deeply held and cherished religious beliefs. I am refuting him handily and without much difficulty. He is now resorting to calling me a liar (which, truthfully, doesn’t offend me in the slightest). He gets very offended and irate when I demonstrate his incompetence and his sophomoric level of argumentation. And I’m certain that our debate is quite tame compared to many others that are out there. I remember a couple of years back, one guy on Facebook (again, whom I didn’t know) got so angry at me, he called me the “N-word” (he is black and I am white, by the way) and he also told me that my father was a child molester. (My father has been deceased for over 42 years, and this man doing the name-calling never knew my father; he was just being cruel and trying to provoke me to react, which he failed to do). This same man threatened to harm me physically. He only stopped when a police officer who was on the thread gave him a not-so-subtle warning.

The internet also causes people to obtain short, crisp answers very quickly without paying the necessary price to dig deeply into a subject, thus often quickly forgetting what they read. By contrast, reading substantive, challenging books, and interacting with them (meaning, highlighting key portions, writing notes in the margins, talking about their content in book clubs, or otherwise finding a way to teach others what the book presented, or writing essays or reviews about the book’s content) is what brings real erudition and learning. But it takes time to get through a 480-page book, especially when one is highlighting and note-taking, etc.

So has the internet given us the illusion of becoming more informed? Or has it, instead, seduced us into thinking we are smart when in fact we know far less than our counterparts who lived in an earlier, pre-internet generation?

And are we truly more “connected” due to the internet?  Or are we more divided than ever?

Ara Norwood is a multi-faceted and results-oriented professional. Spanning a multiplicity of disciplines including leadership, management, innovation, strategy, service, sales, business ethics, and entrepreneurship. Ara is also a historian, having special expertise on the era of the founding of our republic.
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