The Internet is Passive

Many articles about "the internet" are very wrong, and the flaws generally stem from a common source: implying, if not explicitly stating, that the internet does something. It doesn’t. It’s not sentient. It only allows people to do things.

As an example of this, Dan recently bookmarked an article from the Boston Globe subtitled "The turn to online research is narrowing the range of modern scholarship, a new study suggests". There's something interesting going on here, but this article completely misses it. It’s not that the turn to online research is narrowing the range of modern scholarship; it’s that people are narrowing the range of modern scholarship, and the internet is passively letting them do this.

By recognizing the actual actors here, we can ask much more useful questions. Did people always tend toward narrowing research, and only now are able? If so, why do people tend that way? And why weren’t they able before the internet? The answers to these questions might lead to improving the world, whereas assigning responsibility for what happens online to "the internet" is inherently defeatist. We can’t change what the internet does, because it doesn’t actually do anything.

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