Monday, January 14, 2013

Internet drivel

David Gelernter answers the question "What *Should* We Be Worried About?" with "Worry About Internet Drivel." Excerpt:
At the Huffington Post, the future is now; the Weekly Standard has republished parts of a Huff-and-Puffington piece by the actor Sean Penn. Even assuming that Sean Penn is a lot more illiterate than most people, the Post is a respectable site and the Penn piece is eye-opening. 
The conflicted principle here, is that which all too often defines and limits our pride as Americans who, in deference to an omnipresent filter of monoculturalism, isolationism and division, are consistently prone toward behaviors and words, as insensitive and disrespectful, while at foremost counterproductive for the generation of young Americans who will follow us. 
The only problem with this passage is that it is gibberish. The average ten-year-old hasn't fallen this far yet. But the threat is real, is way under the radar and likely to stay there; prognosis: grim.
Me: I think Gelernter has a point, and it's one that inadvertently is underscored by the way the Penn quote appears, without quote marks or other visual indication that it's a quote. (I refer to the second paragraph of the three paragraphs that I have set aside as a block quote.) The Web encourages such loose copy editing standards and heedlessness as to what the reader will actually see.


Lucy Weir said...

I thoroughly agree with you. When I first read this, it took me a few seconds to realise that it was, in fact, a quotation. Yet I find myself, quite unconsciously (usually), using commas to replace quotations when I communicate by email, for instance, just because it's easier and quicker to find the comma on the keyboard than to search for a shift button and locate the less familiar "inverted commas" key. This indicates that writing is shaped by the medium used, and where this is a keyboard, there is some shaping of punctuation, at the very least, by the instrument used to create text.

Lucy Weir said...

Ha. Wrote that so quickly, I inadvertently made the very error I was seeking to avoid: missing a word out, in haste (inverted commas, rather than commas). Yes, this is worrying...

Kenneth Silber said...

Thanks for commenting, Lucy. For me, a good antidote is periodic semi-vacations from the Internet, though of course that's not the best thing for blog traffic.