The Internet has brought with it a new era for news media, redefining the ways in which we access and interact with the news we consume on a daily basis. It’s hard to imagine life without the Internet – did people really use to go to the library when they wanted to research an essay?
Similarly the paperback newspaper, whilst still relevant today, has become much less common following the development of new technologies like the smart phone and tablet. These technologies, which harness the unlimited potential of the Internet, provide a huge number of options for any individual seeking to access the news. In fact according to the most recent statistics, 33% of people read their news media on more than one device, as illustrated below.
This led me to ask the question – Does the platform we use to read the news change the way we consume it?
Online v Paperback
Reading a few journal articles online the results were a little bit unnerving. In fact a lot of studies had been done in the area, but the one that received the most media coverage was titled ‘Is Google making us stupid’. The study put forward the notion that ‘people who read text studded with links, comprehend less than those who read words printed on pages’ (Carr, 2010).
In an increasingly digitally oriented world, this presents a serious issue for our ability to critically interact with the content we are reading. This ability is becoming all the more valuable, particularly when online newspapers produce significantly more junk journalism than their paperback counterparts, who have a greater focus on quality and investigative journalism.
The counter argument to this is exactly the opposite and represents a view held by a number of leading experts. In the wake of the Google study, the Pew Research Center decided to conduct a survey, focusing on 895 technology experts who were asked questions about their expectations relating to social, economic and political change by the year 2020.
Referring directly to Nicholas Carr’s book ‘Google Will Make Us Stupid’, 76% of respondents dismissed the claim, arguing that ‘by 2020, people’s use of the Internet will have enhanced human intelligence’ (Anderson, Rainie, 2010).
While the argument that the Internet is making us stupid is still up for debate, there is little to no doubt that the quality of journalism has dropped in transitioning to the web. With so much competition online, readers have developed this tendency to skim over news until something captures their attention.
Despite some newspapers offering a finite number of ‘free’ articles to read online, most of the major newspapers are beginning to introduce subscription fees. Whilst this is a positive thing, as it promotes quality journalism, it will also drive a number of people the plethora of free alternatives.
Passive readers who seek free alternatives only serve to enhance the large amounts of junk journalism online. Without quality journalism, the media in its role as the fourth estate begins to lose its traction within society – that’s if you still believe the fourth estate exists of course.
Never before have we had access to so much information at the touch of a button, although the main argument that Carr was attempting to make was in relation to our cognitive abilities or rather there lack of. Carr also calls in to question the effect that the Internet has on our memories, because why would you bother writing something down when you can simply type it into Google later?
The fast paced, dynamic nature of the Internet has our attention constantly switching between different things and Carr argues that this will affect our ability to properly digest what we are reading. Perhaps the issue is made more significant when we think of the roles that sites like Wikipedia play in our everyday lives.
Wikipedia is often used as the first-stop shop for developing a very general understanding on a topic, which is reinforced as it often appears as the top hit on Google Search. Again the issue comes back to the fact that anybody can edit Wikipedia, leaving many to doubt the accuracy of the information being posted. It is becoming increasingly important for individuals to know quality journalism when they see it and to engage with the material being written.
Digital media is here to stay and without a doubt the future of journalism. How we interact and access our news becomes therefore all the more important. Perhaps the Roman Philosopher Seneca summed it up perfectly 2,000 years ago when he said, “to be everywhere is to be nowhere” (Tosta, 2013). Never before has this statement had so much relevance in this digital age.
- Carr, N., 2010, ‘How the Internet is making us stupid’, The Telegraph, Online, Accessed: 19/8/14, http://www.telegraph.co.uk/technology/internet/7967894/How-the-Internet-is-making-us-stupid.html
- Anderson, J., Rainie, L., 2010, ‘Future of the Internet IV’, Pew Research Internet Project, Online, Accessed: 20/8/14, http://www.pewinternet.org/2010/02/19/future-of-the-internet-iv/
- Tosta, T., 2013, ‘To Be Everywhere Is to Be Nowhere – Seneca, the Younger’, Coaches Corner, Accessed: 20/8/14, http://coachingcounsel.com/awareness/to-be-everywhere-is-to-be-nowhere-seneca-the-younger/