Thursday, September 11, 2008

The Internet Inhibits Cultural Awareness? I Don't Think So...

Don Campbell writes in a column in the USA Today that "digital culture has changed the way kids learn, but at the expense of literacy and cultural awareness".

This statement deserves to be refuted in the strongest possible terms.

Campbell is a Journalism professor at Emory University, and such a quote makes him seem like a curmudgedy, bitter old man. He apparently believes that digital culture is somehow interefering with "real" culture, when, in fact, they can't be disassociated from each other; they are one and the same. For example, if you met a college student who never heard of YouTube or instant messaging, would you consider them "culturally aware"? No chance. The truth is that digital culture is completely intertwined with our larger culture, just as television and radio are also integral components of it.

Here's another gem that Campbell throws out there:

The alarm bell sounds, however, when you read what some students had to say about how social networking has become such an important part of their lives, devouring hours each day in a way that is much more pervasive than even television.

Call me crazy, but wasn't watching too much television exactly what our parents told us NOT to do? How is interacting and socializing (albeit, in its modern incarnation) with other human beings a WORSE thing than spending hours in front of the television each night?

Furthermore, he quotes another Emory professor, saying that the "screentime" teenagers spend on the internet "is depriving them of the cultural experiences and learning traditionally associated with liberal arts and civic awareness."

But again, that "screentime" is part of the modern cultural experience, not a detractor from it. He also makes a false claim in suggesting that cyberspace inhibits civic awareness. Research has demonstrated time and again how this internet generation is the most educated and worldly of any in history. And the time one spends online versus the time they spend engaged in civic life is not a zero-sum game. A rise in one often coincides with a rise in the other. Heck, scholars like Robert Putnam have published books on the decline of civic engagement that pre-dates the internet.

Campbell believes that the internet is eroding our culture, when, in fact, it is greatly enhancing it. He is flat-out wrong to use a definition that completely disassociates what we do online from the cultural conversation.

This is the world we live in, and denial is the real test of who is truly "culturally unaware".


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