2008-07-03 / Sam Bari

Googlamaniacs and cyberspacelyitis

You can't beat a system you can't understand
By Sam Bari

Something that has been bothering me for some time, but I have been hesitant to write about is how we humans are responding to the virtual world of cyberspace. Many have addressed the subject, and opinions vary. Nonetheless, all observations should be considered and I suppose one more would not hurt.

Our crack team of researchers, the Googlamaniacs, are prime examples of what happens when people spend too many hours in front of a computer wandering aimlessly through the emotionless environment of the Internet.

I believe these people get sucked into the virtual world as if it were a black hole. Their brains become one with a giant pulsating blob of virtual intelligence that analysts use to manipulate the masses. The result is a species of Internet junkies who suffer from an unspeakable disease that I have dubbed cyberspacelyitis.

Our Googlamaniacs have attempted for years to convince us that they communicate with abbreviations and esoteric Internet jargon in the name of efficiency. Most of the real world believes they are lazy and can't spell. I tend to agree.

The gazillionaires who own the giant search engines like Google, Yahoo, Dogpile, and a host of others, readily admit that they experiment with hundreds of daily "tests" to learn how people gather information. They also learn about how Internet users feel about the information gleaned from Internet sources.

The advent of the blog has resulted in telling statistics about how Internet junkies think. The invitation to comment on every bit of news, sporting events, or celebrity happenings has also revealed how many Internet users do not have the ability to activate so much as a single neuron in vital lobes of their cerebral cortex.

I suppose that is why the number of hits on Brittany Spears inability to remember to wear underwear greatly outnumbered the number of hits on the latest NHS statistics published by the BBC. (For Brittany Spears fans, NHS is a commonly accepted reference to the National Health Service.)

However, I believe the multiple choice questions asked by Internet news services about every newsworthy or newsworthless item they deem pertinent could skew the statistics relating to the way readers actually think.

AOL generally prompts readers with questions like, "Do you think this is good, bad, or I don't know" for questions on just about any subject. The surveys never consider answers like, "More information is required before I can give an intelligent answer," or "The matter needs more discussion before a responsible conclusion can be ascertained."

Despite the many buffoons and nut cases that respond to or offer nonsensical opinions in surveys and blogs, the Internet has proven to be a valuable tool for scholars and professionals who use the resource for research and efficient communication for legitimate purposes.

The most alarming statistics concern the speed and availability of massive amounts of information that can be accessed in a fraction of a second. Unfortunately, the treasure trove of instant answers to complex questions has caused Internet users to economize their thought process so they can get the most out of their Internet experience. Consequently, they don't want to take the time to read any more.

Many scholars who purported to be avid readers before becoming Internet addicts, admit they have problems concentrating on extended works. They just want bare facts presented as efficiently as possible so they can get back to the voracious consumption of as much information on every possible subject.

The inverted pyramid style of journalists is ideal for these people. Headlines offer a conclusion followed by lead lines that tell who, what, where and when. Most Internet users are satisfied with this condensed "news in a nutshell" methodology. They don't need the details of "why."

The result is a reactionary society. They read a headline and consider how or if their lives are affected. They then think about what they can do about it with as little inconvenience as as possible and get back to more infor- mation gathering.

I have witnessed both eras. I remember the euphoric experience of being immersed in a good book and swimming through a sea of words that stimulated my imagination and took me on a voyage to a new and exciting reality.

A trip through the virtual world of the Internet is like visiting Washington D. C. with a tour guide and seeing the Smithsonian Institution, the Library of Congress, and the National Mall all in a two-day weekend. I have spent a week in the Smithsonian and never saw all of it. Consider the difference between walking across the country and flying over it in a jet plane that has broken the sound barrier.

I know a young family that recently selected a house with just one visit to the property. They then jumped on the Internet and took a virtual tour of the neighborhood to find all that it had to offer. They accessed public records and learned about their neighbors. Names, ages, how many were in the family, and in many cases what the principle money maker did for a living was readily available with a few strokes of a keypad.

What happened to the practice of visiting the neighborhood and talking to the residents, shopkeepers, and school teachers? When I was a boy, the anticipation of meeting new friends and exploring the community on my bike kept me awake at nights. Moving to a new neighborhood was an adventure that presented a thousand surprises and as many rewards. The Internet has taken away the mystery and romance of the unknown.

Those who have been addicted to the Internet for so long that they have contracted cyberspacelyitis have probably learned more "about" life and all the world has to offer than the rest of us. However, they are not aware that they are denying themselves the joys of the life experience. Fortunately, life does not go by at the speed of thought. I still like to savor it for all its worth.

No matter how much we use the Internet, it will never take the place of the realities of a real world. Cyberspace is just another part of that system we can't understand.

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