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What the Internet is Killing, Part 2

Rather than lament the passing of traditional values, beliefs and rituals, let's invent ways to save them. Let's examine the 'dying' practices we...

Christine Huang
Christine Huang on September 25, 2009.

Last week, we pointed to The Telegraph’s half-cheeky, half-serious list of “50 Things That Are Being Killed by the Internet“. Trivial bits like “2) Fear that you are the only person unmoved by a celebrity’s death” and “44) Trust in Nigerian businessmen and princes” aside, the obituary reflected a genuine wistfulness for ‘the good old days’. A few casualties worth deeper consideration:

15) Photo albums and slide shows: Facebook, Flickr and printing sites like Snapfish are how we share our photos. Earlier this year Kodak announced that it was discontinuing its Kodachrome slide film because of lack of demand.

17) Watching television together: On-demand television, from the iPlayer in Britain to Hulu in the US, allows relatives and colleagues to watch the same programmes at different times, undermining what had been one of the medium’s most attractive cultural appeals – the shared experience. Appointment-to-view television, if it exists at all, seems confined to sport and live reality shows.

22) Enforceable copyright: The record companies, film studios and news agencies are fighting back, but can the floodgates ever be closed?

31) Privacy: We may attack governments for the spread of surveillance culture, but users of social media websites make more information about themselves available than Big Brother could ever hoped to obtain by covert means.

35) Concentration: What with tabbing between Gmail, Twitter, Facebook and Google News, it’s a wonder anyone gets their work done. A disturbing trend captured by the wonderful XKCD webcomic.

The list mourns the death of practices and attributes many of us don’t want to sacrifice (our ability to concentrate, real-life gatherings, a respect for privacy), things that hold value to us but have been usurped by new conventions and conveniences. It’s a reminder that the internet, like all technological innovation, makes our lives both easier and more complex; along with efficiency and abundance, it offers an increasingly foreign world of choices in the way we communicate, work and play.

Rather than lament the passing of these values, beliefs and rituals, let’s invent ways to save them. Let’s examine the ‘dying’ practices we value and design new tools, strategies, and products to keep them (or the essence of them) alive.

Apple’s iTunes does this well, reimagining the experience of flipping through LPs at a record store with its elegant coverflow navigation. RCRD LBL is another good example – rather than struggling (in vain) to curb illegal filesharing, the online music network highlights their stable of emerging artists and lets users stream and share their music freely – so both fans and musicians (and their copyyrights) win. Meanwhile, Hulu and MTV are trying to reinvent the communal tv-watching experience, the former hosting virtual premiere parties via Facebook; the latter developing games around real-time fan commentary. And publications like NYT and Slate have found meaningful ways to engage their attention-split readers with interactive slideshows and infographics that bring depth and added relevance to their storytelling.

The internet may be ‘killing’ the way we’ve gotten used to doing things, but it hasn’t extinguished our fundamental curiosity, our desire to see, hear and learn new things, to interact socially and with sincerity, and to seek long-lasting enrichment in the media we consume and share.  Rather than regret all that’s being lost, brands and content creators should be creating new ways to humanize our experiences through technology not around it. The challenge is not to stop the tide of change, but to anchor ourselves in the rituals and common humanity that have always survived it.

Thinking...