Monday, April 07, 2008

Boundary issues

It has been a while since I have commented on a publication of the Maxim Institute, for the simple reason that I could not be bothered to read any of them. But now here comes the latest edition of Real Issues and its about Internet
The arrival of the internet in our lives has drastically changed the way we receive information and communicate. Where information flow once required people to meet in person to speak or deliver documents, we are now able to access far-away people and places at rapid speeds. With change come both opportunities and risks. The internet opens exciting opportunities for learning and relating, whilst also provoking genuine concerns about user safety and the amount of time people, particularly children, spend in the "virtual" rather than the "real" world.
Before we go on, I cannot help but comment on the tone of this and other pronouncements by the Maxim Institute on new technology. There is something very Home Service about it all. Although TCP/IP is twenty-five years old, Maxim still talks of the arrival of Internet in our lives. It is as if Maxim received its Internet on bakelite-cased machines produced by the Empire Internet Corporation of Staines, Middlesex, England. But now we return to our scheduled broadcast.

You see, it's all about boundaries. Children need them when using Internet. Otherwise, they might end up suffering Internet Addiction, one of the most serious public health issues in South Korea. And we wouldn't want to end up like the South Koreans - eating all that cabbage and making the world's worst beer - would we? Maxim continues:
The reported incidents of internet addiction worldwide are small, yet they speak grave and important words to us, if we listen. They speak of people trapped in the cravings for instant sensation and connection. They speak of people losing an ability to function physically as the virtual world rules their head. And they speak of a society that builds internet cafes that are cheaper the longer you stay, and then watches as people sit for hours, interacting only with a computer. They are words that we need to hear, not to spark paranoia, but to recognise that responsibility is crucial in the way we interact with information technology. The problem does not lie with the internet. It lies with a boundless culture, instant communication and a glut of sensation. It lies with fickle beliefs and an inability to siphon information. Somehow we must slow down, turn off some switches and speak to each other again about how to be discerning.
Rather rum, isn't it, how Maxim always talks about "society" being to blame for issues that are the responsibility of business? Society does not build Internet cafés - they are the work of private businesses. It is dashed funny how moral conservatives will always blame some cultural elite when an artist produces a work that offends, but never blame a business elite when businesses stuff up people's lives by exploiting them. I suppose that has something to do with the sources of funding enjoyed by morally conservative groups.

In any case, Maxim has little reason to demand boundaries on Internet. If it were not for wild and free surfing, Maxim would be nothing. All that "research" Maxim presented to Parliament was found on Internet by Maxim staffers who knew nothing of the areas in which they pretended to specialise. They just visited other conservative web sites and stole their lies. Internet also allowed Bruce Logan to steal the words of other conservative commentators. Of course, it also allowed me to discover what Brucie was doing; besides, my information source within Maxim, Harriet (the spy), could only do that thing she did because of Internet.

You see, that's the great thing about a boundless Internet - anybody can use it. We don't have self-appointed and self-interested moral guardians like Maxim setting the boundaries for us.


Psycho Milt said...

...people sit for hours, interacting only with a computer.

Which is rather like saying people who write letters are interacting only with a piece of paper. Morons.

Russell Brown said...

It's so great having Maxim back on the block. The internet helped me discover this about Dr Jerald Block, whose editorial the Maxim ramble is based on:

I was particularly surprised by what seemed like a significant omission in the commentary. Of the 103 articles in Nexis and 92 articles linked from Google News that refer to Dr. Block’s editorial not one of them reported the fact that Dr. Block is the co-founder and president of SMARTguard, a company which owns a patent on technology that can be used to restrict computer access. It’s funny that no one mentioned it, since its right there in the editorial footnote. It’s possible no one read the full editorial. It’s more frightening to think that everyone did, but were reassured by the footnote which reads :

"Dr. Block owns a patent on technology that can be used to restrict computer access. Dr. Freedman has reviewed this editorial and found no evidence of influence from this relationship."

I'm open to the idea that there is a diagnosable addiction to the internet. Hell, people get addicted to food -- it can kill them. But this is an editorial comment by a privately-practising psychiatrist with a horse in the race, one whose brush is sufficiently broad to conflate obsessive online gaming in Korea (they play Starcraft in stadiums there) with actual internet use.

I'm much more interested in the DSM having a realistic definition of autism spectrum disorders (sadly, not looking likely) than something as vague as this making the book.

A. J. Chesswas said...

zzzzz.... this topic could be so much more interesting, but u and bruce have killed it with yr drab ramble... You're right, the tone wreaks of something, but then your post isnt much better... u could have written something way more inspiring and insightful about how the internet has radically changed our lives, but its a whole lot of duplireactionary drivel....

Craig Ranapia said...

Where information flow once required people to meet in person to speak or deliver documents, we are now able to access far-away people and places at rapid speeds.

So, who do you think answers the phones and opens the mail at Maxim HQ?

A little less facetiously, I wonder if some scholar could dig out some remarkably similar handwringing about various other new technologies: television, the wireless, the broadsheet newspaper (that delightful confluence of mass literacy, high speed presses and cheap paper)... all the way back to movable type. Still, you do have to admire Maxim for being more or less candid: It's not the technology that's the problem, but that it falls into the hands of the wrong sort of people.

Sam Finnemore said...

Once I'm done doing actual research, I'd be delighted to go and see if I can find 14th-century handwringing about the advent of mass-produced books that were simply copied out to be read and learnt from, rather than worshipped and chained permanently to reading desks.

"Gasp! What kind of loons are going to be polluting our culture, now they have access to books that take less than a year to produce and don't cost three years' average wage?"

I *know* it's out there, folks.

Anonymous said...

Hmmm... I may have something for you there, Sam. While I was doing some reading about the Italian Renaissance and gay social networks, I came upon Catholic firebrand Savonarola, who criticised his native Florence for its ostentatious nature, and amongst other things, urged citizens to burn books related to the renewal of classical influence on Italian art and culture as Bad Things.

Craig Y.

Anonymous said...

Yes Maxim is the modern Savonarola Craig!

I am greatly looking forward to Maxim's round of Election 2008 forums coming to YOU before the General Election. I will be there to keep them honest. If I can be bothered. See you there. Maybe.