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LIVING IN THE IMMATERIAL WORLD . . .

 
 
Setanta
 
Reply Wed 25 Jun, 2003 08:47 am
Livin' in the material world . . .

The ol' Material Girl notwithstanding, i wish to discuss livin' in the immaterial world. A member started a thread a while back in which he (?) suggested that the computer and the world wide web had fundamentally altered the world by putting us in a situation in which there was more information available than could be reasonably dealt with. I disagreed, holding that the computer and the web simply accelerate the access to and dissemination of information. For those of you who spared yourselves the torture of reading my typically too long reply, my basic thesis is that the human experience in populated places has for millennia been that there is often, perhaps one would be justified in saying, usually, more information than an individual can reasonably be expected to assimilate. Computers and the web accelerate the process, but haven't created the profound change the author of the thread implied. Farmerman posted a reply about graduate students dealing with the vast amounts of "science" made available on the web, separating the wheat from the chaff as it were, trying to dispense with the junk science. My contention would be that junk science has always proliferated, and that prior to the advent of the web, one would simply require more time, and possibly a legion more of graduate students, to sort through the paperasse
dlowan wrote:
...a prophet in her own land....never understood or appreciated...jokes not laughed at...witticisms incomprehensible to those around her...may as well go and make a pie of myself....trails off disconsolately.......


When the web began, we already had telegraph, telephones, radio and televison, and ubiquitous libraries-it was not so much of a sea change as the proliferation of printing presses more than five hundred years ago at the dawn of the "Information Age" . . . but the web creates something which conquers time and space as no other human innovation has ever done. The web creates community. Let us suppose a mythic board member living in Monkey's Eyebrow, Kentucky (i didn't make that up, check it out for yerself), conversant in latin, literature and lapine laciviousness, saddly lacking in community as her "witticisms [are] incomprehensible to those around her . . . " In an earlier age, she would be condemned to an intellectual aloneness that no amount of telephone or telegraph wire could conquer. But now, with the web, she can seek out those who will comprehend the wit, who will laugh at her jokes, who will understand and appreciate her. If she feels lonely, or is unwell, she can have the sympathy of friends of like mind, friends who will value her for her classical education and command of the language.

Let us leave the hypothetical member, and return to our Dear Rabbit. When she drags home in her evening, after her exhausting day, she can go on-line to greet and converse with those of us in North America for whom the day is adawning. This is the great power of the web, the marvelous innovation for which there is no precedent. As we sip our morning coffee and the wabbit puts her tired feet up, we can revel in the polished beauty of her witticisms which we find . . . "dropping from the veils of morn to where the cricket sings . . ."
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sozobe
 
  1  
Reply Wed 25 Jun, 2003 10:03 am
Interesting!

I've thought about this a lot, too. One thing I have wondered is whether this is actually a good thing. To wit: I have been in several situations where I have been thrown together with people I don't particularly like. At the beginning, I was resigned to never being understood or appreciated, and just planned to get through it. But in each of these situations, after a certain amount of time had passed, we started to really like each other. We figured out our commonalities, started to get and appreciate our differences, and, well, bonded.

I'm not sure if it is completely good for society that someone can take a look around his or her immediate environs, say "ach, they're all idiots", and go online to find people who are more simpatico. I certainly have to fight this temptation. There is the communication factor, for me, which puts a slightly different spin on it. But one of my best friends IRL is slightly Republican (mostly apolitical), parents much differently than I do, has different taste in reading, etc., etc. I would never pick her out as simpatico if we encountered each other online. Yet, we get along. We tease each other, we commisserate, we have a good time.

Anyway, I think that as we have more and more choice about who we socialize with, rather than walking down Main Street of the small town in which we reside and knowing every person we pass to a greater or lesser degree, we open ourselves up to more and more stratification as like seeks like and doesn't bother with unlike.
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Eva
 
  1  
Reply Wed 25 Jun, 2003 10:44 am
Good points, all.
I just see this as further evidence of the shrinking world. Once upon a time, your friends would only be in your community. As technology has advanced, relationships have been possible at increasing distances. I now have friends in France, Australia, England and Indonesia. Which greatly increases the possibility that someday I might actually visit those places.
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Phoenix32890
 
  1  
Reply Wed 25 Jun, 2003 01:41 pm
I am shaking my head in agreement with all the points made so far, but I think that there was an important point that nobody yet considered. The information was laways out there. The difference is that the computer is an unbelievable time saver.

Just think of all the facts that you research just being on A2K. Have you planned a vacation, checked out hotels, or found out who sold the DVD that you wanted at the cheapest price? Now think of what you would have to do to access this information without the internet.

A friend of mine had a son in law school. She was telling me how he does all his law research on the computer. I can remember years ago that law students had to burn the midnight oil in law libraries, flipping through books to find what they wanted, spending a goodly portion of their time SEARCHING. Now with a click of a mouse..........
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farmerman
 
  1  
Reply Wed 25 Jun, 2003 02:08 pm
setanta-The computer is as much a toy as the auto. It has , and is requiring us to rethink the b oundaries of a number of applications, not only science. While I, as a scientist/teacher , have to be aware of the source material that my students quote, i cant say Im going to read everything thats handed me in a bibliography. Weve instituted a "self checking" on sources for various papers that are handed in as work product. student A checks the work of student b and each has a risk/ reward outcome. if I check on references and find one askew with standard science methods, and the outcome is screwey, both students lose. id appreciate good, peer reviewed stuff, not self published crap about all sorts of theories that I will not offer for consideration.
Bad science was always there.It is now and ... per omnia secula etc etc. However, whats different. Now bogus and non-peer reviewed crap can get out there and develop a following before the evening news bearing the retraction is printed.
For example, look at all the PENIS ENLARGEMENT techniques on the web. Often cast as medical information, there are ads that claim to be "the best penis enlargement pill, or technique of any others out there" when, most likely , its all bogus.

hmmm, the spell checker seems not to be working, i cant correct my usual batch of typos.
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patiodog
 
  1  
Reply Wed 25 Jun, 2003 02:17 pm
The internet exacerbates the problem farmerman's talking about, in my mind. The crackpot self published stuff is available for free (after paying for connectivity, at any rate) to anybody. Most of the peer-reviewed stuff can only be read in full only with an individual or institutional subscription. (Luckily I can never manage to read more than an abstract, but still...)
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Setanta
 
  1  
Reply Wed 25 Jun, 2003 02:36 pm
Well, farmer and Patio, i don't deny, in fact, i've acknowledged the accelerating effect of the web. However, because your world's are so greatly enhanced by the computer does not mean that this effect is universal. For the human race as a whole, the computer is a toy--it accelerates access to information, but it does not necessarily create access to information which did not before exist. I feel that you make a good point about how quickly bogus information gets spread, but i'd say that what i've read about history teaches me that the snake oil salesman was always first on the scene, and first out the door, while self-disciplined, sincere scientists have always gotten little or no hearing from the public. I don't think the computer and the web change this, they simply accelerate the effect.

At any event, it is my take that the new opportunity for communities which transcend the time and space limitations which have heretofore always obtained, represent the most significant influence of 'puters and the web. As i have already noted, i consider the advent of printing presses, and the subsequent dramatic rise in literacy, as well as the eventual profusion of lending libraries, was far more dramatic in effect as regards the dissemination of information (both "good" information and "junk" information) than is represented by the incremental change provided by computers and the web. Once again, i see the effect as accelerating in the realm of information, and not a profound change in the nature of the information itself. I do think computers and the web have given birth to a profound change in the nature of community.
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farmerman
 
  1  
Reply Wed 25 Jun, 2003 02:56 pm
no disagree about the printing press set, but using that analogy on rate and effects, the press only could be properly assessed AS ONE OF THE GREATEST(if not the greatest) tech moves of the second millenium. The computer, as now we know it, wont be fully mature for another multiple score years. We dont disagree that, when some technology changes the playing field, its a huge jughandle in the road of progress.
The press merely increased dissemination speed and promoted literacy in its birth years
The computer does that times what, a thousand? ten thousand? a bozillion? and like the press, the puter has infiltrated evrything we do in a fairly painless manner. Its getting so that even programming language will be just anothe trade.
My biggest concern is that we use computers for complea data analyses and models which are based on standard math and processes of iteration where wqe just run the calculations over and over for billions of time steps. However, many students, all though facile in the ways of the model, sometimes dont understand whats beneath the cute graphics . Not all students mind you, fortunately we have a few very enlightened ones who dig deeply into all aspects of their research, including the modes of analyses. All I can do is be there and marvel at their findings and demand they understand why they arrived where they did.
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sozobe
 
  1  
Reply Wed 25 Jun, 2003 03:07 pm
Community-wise, I think the closest analogy is the car, in that it made it so much easier to seek out those who are simpatico rather than being stuck with whatever community you were born into.
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jespah
 
  1  
Reply Wed 25 Jun, 2003 03:32 pm
Phoenix32890 wrote:
...A friend of mine had a son in law school. She was telling me how he does all his law research on the computer. I can remember years ago that law students had to burn the midnight oil in law libraries, flipping through books to find what they wanted, spending a goodly portion of their time SEARCHING. Now with a click of a mouse..........


It wasn't that long ago that you spent all your time in the library - where your classmates would take razor blades and cut out the information you needed after they'd finished with it. Yes, this really happened; I ain't makin' it up.

But I digress.

I've been online for quite a while, in a number of different guises, and one thing about this online community thing is that it makes it so that you don't have to live right on top of people who are exactly like you in order to have friends, be happy, have a social life, etc. One of the first things I ever did online (back in 1997) was to seek out fellow "Quantum Leap" fans. My husband was sort of a fan, but not a fanatic-type fan. So I went online, and I met people, and for a while there I was corresponding fairly regularly with a British woman. Now, I haven't been to Britain since, eek, 1972, but I had made an acquaintance there just the same. So the 'Net made it possible for me to indulge my interest without boring and alienating the people around me who weren't so fascinating by the minutiae of that TV series.

But did the 'Net really do this?

Consider this: way before the 'Net, there were pen pals. You could look in the back of a magazine and find people from around the world who were interested in correspondence. A lot of them were lonely hearts, but many of them weren't - they just wanted to "talk" to someone different from them. These weren't necessarily people living out in the middle of nowhere, either - they just wanted an experience with someone outside their circle. They didn't want to be constrained from a friendship just because of the vagaries of physical location.
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Eva
 
  1  
Reply Wed 25 Jun, 2003 03:34 pm
Setanta wrote:
I do think computers and the web have given birth to a profound change in the nature of community.


And we are living proof. Cool
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Setanta
 
  1  
Reply Wed 25 Jun, 2003 08:45 pm
As for the automobile, it's effect on society is way beyond what most people would automatically consider--even the well-educated. All of the physicians of the world for the last 200 years in one big heap are not worth a thousand competent plumbers, civil engineers and automotive designers and builders. In the mid-nineteenth century, a young doctor in Clapham noticed that the cholera epidemic raging in London killed people below a certain pump, but not those above it. What he discovered was that people below the pump followed a human habit from the faintest reaches of human history, they went up for their water source. Those living above the pump were not using it, they were going to a pump higher up. The lower pump sat at the beginning of the sewer system in Clapham, and the young doctor correctly surmised, without a germ theory of disease, that the water was contaminated by sewage, and that accounted for the spread of the disease. He saved, perhaps, a few hundred lives.

But the competent plumbers and civil engineers who put in systems to deliver reliably clean water, and to keep it separate from sewage, to be carried off without contaminating ground water, save millions of lives. It could be argued that this is because the doctors taught them, but those physicians were only an accelerating factor, much like what i have described for the computer. In Renaissance Italy, city planners had "decoded" that secret of public health, and the proudest of those cities had clean water and reliable sewers, the use of which was enforced by law--and they knew this and acted upon it centuries before that young doctor in Clapham set aside his human connection to his community to enable himself to study the problem "from the outside"--a very necessary ethical sacrifice.

But the automobile remains supreme as the greatest public health achievement in human history. For millenia, great metropolii have flourished, and done so at a fearsome price in infant mortality, childhood deaths, and a greatly stunted life expectancy. This is because of our hundreds of generations of reliance upon beasts of burden, and particularly the horse. When the automobile finally conquered Ol' Dobbin, the most ubiquitous and ancient of disease vectors was finally removed from the streets--horse ****. The massive clouds of flies which swarmed every street, crawling on the "horse apples" and then on and into the open mouths and noses of babies were gone. Urban stables, with their concentration of the vector for tuberculosis vanished within a generation--John Keats and his sister were raised in relative comfort by their uncle in the family quarters above his uncle's London livery stable. They both died in their twenties, from "consumption"--very likely tuberculosis.

Farmer has made a very cogent point about the "infancy" of the computer. When Gutenberg and Caxton were printing bibles and "French Romances," they reached a relatively small and select audience--the lending library would wait two centuries to be born. How will the computer one day compare to the automobile in profound effect on the lives of everyone on the globe? Much to chew on here . . .
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Setanta
 
  1  
Reply Wed 25 Jun, 2003 09:16 pm
By the by, i did hope that this would be a thread about the creation of a new form of community and it's ramifications . . . should i just give up, and start a different thread?
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dlowan
 
  1  
Reply Wed 25 Jun, 2003 10:12 pm
(Ahem - small point - said Bunny, in Setanta's quote, was, in fact, referring to her ONLINE community, laughingly of course, at the time.....but this makes no nevermind for the discussion, which I am busily reading...)
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Setanta
 
  1  
Reply Wed 25 Jun, 2003 10:16 pm
I was aware of that, Cunning Coney, and it was the irony of it all which struck me enough to have started this thread. You ain't afoolin' me, girl, i know you come here to meet friends who understand the same things you understand . . .
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dlowan
 
  1  
Reply Wed 25 Jun, 2003 10:34 pm
I sort of think it is an extension, to a vastly greater NUMBER of participants and SORTS of people - and a contraction, to an infinitely faster time - of the sort of community that was enjoyed by scholars in the Renaissance (and in an even more constricted world before? eg scholarly Greeks communicating with each other) for instance - where Latin was a common language and learned discourse, as it does now, ignored frontiers - or to the sort of frequent and intimate letters that used to pass between people who may never have met in Georgian and Victorian times.

For me, it is partly what Setanta has written - a place to come when I am exhausted, but restless, after work.

The international component is the wonder, I think, for me - and I think it IS new for so many people from many countries to be able to talk to each other so easily - for many of us limited by speaking only one language, of course; but, we English speakers have been very lucky in the lottery of life, in that our language is learned by so many others.

It will be interesting to see if this ever makes a difference - is it possible, one day, that governments will be less able to whip up hysterical feelings against those on whom, for strategic reasons, it wishes to wage war? Was the American war fervour any less in this most recent attack than in others, for instance? It seems the Australian and British one was - but perhaps this was because we had not suffered a massive terror incident...?

Have closed countries like China any real reason to fear the net? Will their people be less obedient if exposed to alternative points of view in large numbers? Will we be?

On another tack, it strikes me that I, for instance, never ventured all that far in search of a net community. I found Abuzz, now here - and I have created the sort of "village" of people that I live in, in effect (I mean the sort of social village - you know - groups of friends) in real life.

Am I typical - or do others go farther afield, on average?
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dlowan
 
  1  
Reply Wed 25 Jun, 2003 10:47 pm
Setanta wrote:
I was aware of that, Cunning Coney, and it was the irony of it all which struck me enough to have started this thread. You ain't afoolin' me, girl, i know you come here to meet friends who understand the same things you understand . . .


I do, indeed, Setanta - but, in general, me real life friends understand 'em too - however, I think where I DO find a difference is in politics.

In real life, I have a huge group of friends who are real lefties (from a USA perspective, anyway - not so much from a left perspective - 'tis all relative) - and whose bread and butter is politics, and who, being so dedicated and experienced, can out-argue one who is a political dilettante, such as myself. (And another group who are sort of a-political, so they are no fun to talk politics with, either) But, out-argued or not, I often disagree, but there is nobody who picks up my thoughts and supports me to help keep discussion going. Here, I can read lots from a real right wing, or centre right perspective - and I find it very interesting.


Actually, I probably also have a badinage and persiflage vacuum now, too. It used to be that I had a group of people at work, and another group in my social life, with whom I could enjoy literary and other crazy badinage. The work people who are there now like some of this sort of conversation, but it is more limited, because they often do not understand me. I am still very good friends with the ex-work people who do - but it is not a daily joy, and, since we are all so busy, it is not possible to spend as much time with my other badinage group.
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Setanta
 
  1  
Reply Wed 25 Jun, 2003 10:50 pm
That last paragraph precisely describes what i was gettin' at, and it is why i come out to join the dancin' electrons, and kick up my synaptic heels . . .
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dlowan
 
  1  
Reply Wed 25 Jun, 2003 10:55 pm
yeppies! so many people to choose from!
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farmerman
 
  1  
Reply Thu 26 Jun, 2003 05:38 am
I like badinage all fried up with onions.
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