Does the Internet increase or decrease the permanence of writing?

The Internet has wielded unprecedented impacts on writing: from methodology, to modality, to publication, to dissemination, to memory. In all of these cases, the Internet has (seemingly) offered expansion. New, inventive methodologies; an ever-changing landscape of modalities; an explosion of publication avenues; a global, instantaneous system of distribution; and endless memory and storage.

However, with the absolute profusion of writing (from documents, to webpages, to web-text, to user-generated content like Facebook and Instagram, etc.), it feels as though writing is getting lost. Search Engine Optimization (SEO) has become crucial, and writers and companies struggle to craft their content to be relevant and, most importantly, to be seen.

The writing is certainly stored online, but does storage equate to permanence? Does storage equate to memory? Do permanence and memory even matter, if the writing cannot be found?

  • This is very insightful. I agree that the profusion of writing to the web is draining something from the act itself; in the same way that Walter Benjamin saw a loss of aura or essence from the creation of art as a result of industrialized mass production (specifically with photography and film as opposed to painting/sculpting and live theater respectfully). Ultimately, storage does not equal permanence. The internet may disappear, just as many of us book-lovers fear that books may altogether disappear one day (a good example is in S. Delaney's "Nova", in which books are a long-lost phenomenon of the past; something many have attempted to replicate and few have succeeded. The insipidness of the internet, the growth and prevalence of online art, interaction and writing, is not necessarily a bad thing. However, the ways in which these writing forms often present is not healthy. This writing often places value in the perception of the audience over the reality of the writer. Plus, there is no guarantee that the internet is truly permanent. The internet can fail, just like the banks; and the bigger they are, the harder they fall. Banking systems have nothing on the internet in terms of size and spheres of influence. What happens then? We start from scratch I guess. – skjamin 1 year ago
  • The internet certainly changes our relationship to memory and other forms of communication. Multiple articles and researchers have pointed out that people are relying less on memory and more on the ability to instantly search and find information when needed. Similarly, Plato rejected writing, as it declined the oral tradition and would reduce the amount of information that people would have to memorize, thus decreasing the art of memorization. The internet, with the ability to quickly search for information is taking this a step further, as people store less in their minds and are reliant on quick searches to yield information. Stephen Hawking in “Life in the Universe” notes that the rate at which new knowledge is produced is so rapid compared to times in the past, that it is impossible to become a true generalist a la Davinci, Francis Bacon, and Newton. The age of the “Renaissance Man” may have come to an end. Instead, now we must increasingly specialize our knowledge consumption to become well-read enough to produce knowledge that is useful in that field. We see this through the increasing specialization in the sciences: one is no longer a physicist, but a theoretical, experimental or quantum physicist. In these very specialized fields, individuals certainly have a permanence of knowledge pertaining to their focus areas, but one quickly discards information not related to their chosen field of study. From our understanding of neuroscience, we know that if pathways are not frequently used, they wither and it becomes more difficult to retrieve information stored on those pathways. However, the ability to quickly find information does not decrease the art of composing ideas. The internet, and computing technologies in general, are a tool that reduce our need to memorize hard facts, but still it is a fundamentally human activity to synthesize this information to create knowledge. I think the bigger question is “How has the ability to rapidly retrieve information effected our ability to produce knowledge outside of our specialized focuses/fields of study?” – Solomon 1 year ago

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