Think of the Children

The internet is a magical place, where ideas flow like water from an infinite spring.

The internet is a road leading to many things, mostly invisible, terribly useful.

On the road of the internet, browsers are like cars, apps are like busses. A car can take you anywhere, providing that you know the address. A bus will take you many places, but you have to choose from a proscribed list.

Today in seminar, we briefly discussed the relative merits of the two vehicles, and who would prefer which. While I can confidently say I would not want to give up either apps or my dear browser, I also know that in the end I would choose my browser over any (or all) apps. The reasoning behind this is largely due to personal experience. In my early days as an internet user, I was also a nascent middle school philosopher. Needless to say, I didn’t know much about the world (and I still don’t!) The internet was where I went to try to learn more. Specifically, I followed several very obscure independent blogs with religious devotion. Each was published on a different platform, and each I had stumbled upon by sheer accident of words typed into a search engine. They were weird blogs, to be perfectly honest, including one that I hold very dear to my heart written by a woman who left a somewhat abusive religious and family situation to find her own path. They inspired me to think differently, to speak my mind, and to not fear the niche and unpopular.

One could argue that a search engine in and of itself can be an app; while that is true, any single search engine is still a bus, in a way. You can get off at hundreds of thousands of stops, but there will be some that are harder to access than they might be on another search engine. And regardless, as of 2015, most traffic has not been driven by even the most dominant search engine, Google; the plurality of website traffic, 40% as of 2017 (1), comes from Facebook. This is in many ways even more limiting than being funneled into one search engine; when traffic comes from Facebook, you can rest assured that the sites you are linked to are either those that you already visit, those that are in your opinion network, or those that are most popular.

And so I argue for browsers, for the sake of children, specifically teenagers, everywhere. Every young person is like a sponge for ideas and opinions around them, and they will soak up what they read online. For many people, that might just be Buzzfeed listicles and the occasional CNN brief or New York Times smash report. But for a few, there will be exploration and learning that takes place through the browser. I believe that we are worse off if we raise the next generation of digital natives inside the bubbles that social media creates for them. I hope that even as many of us stray toward apps, browsers will continue to maintain enough of a presence to give everyone, especially the teenage internet users, a place to be exposed to new ideas.

1 – http://www.businessinsider.com/google-fa…

2 Comments »

  1. Mike Smith

    November 7, 2017 @ 7:00 pm

    1

    I love your cars/browser and buses/apps analogy, and the personal story that follows. Yours is a very powerful argument for having less of a “walled garden” approach, dangerous as it can be at times. (Of course, I grew up in a time when I was free to wander our town and expected to be wise enough to keep out of serious trouble. If not, I lost my freedom.) Thanks.

  2. Jim Waldo

    November 10, 2017 @ 11:14 pm

    2

    I still fondly remember USENET, as anarchistic a set of new groups as you could imagine– literally thousands of discussion forums, started by anyone and living only because someone (or many someones) wanted to chime in on a subject. It made search engines look controlling, and I sometimes miss it (although being restricted to 7-bit ASCII text did have its limitations). When I saw the offerings of AOL or CompuServe they seemed so…limited.

    I think there will always be tension between the anarchy of the raw Internet/Web and the curated content. The latter looks easier, but I see it as training wheels. J.Z. has been worrying about the control of content for 20 years, and so far, even with all kinds of advances, it hasn’t happened. My hope is that it never does.

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