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The Internet mentality

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by Michael H. Goldhaber
Though the Internet includes pictures, sounds, videos and other possibilities, it remains primarily organized on the basis of text. Thus search engines require written text almost always as the basis of searching, and what underlies any Web page is HTML code, itself a form of text. Emails, blogs, listservs, instant messaging, chat rooms, and the vast majority of Web pages remain primarily textual in content. Thus Homo interneticus is still fundamentally a reader and also a writer.

An average person sits with hands at or near an alphanumeric keyboard in perusing material on the Internet, and is thus equally in a position at each moment to write or to read, both of which are normally carried out by means of the same screen. Whether one chooses to print out a downloaded text or one of ones own composition, either is accomplished through essentially the same steps and by means of the same printer. Thus there is no longer any gulf whatsoever in appearance or position between reading matter and ones own writing. The symmetry between the two is perfect.

The first steps towards this greater symmetry began before the arrival of the Internet itself, in the first 15 years of personal computers, and even, to a slight extent before that. With the advent of word processing, writing itself could be replaced by the direct onscreen setting into justified type of even quite complex texts. By now writers and by now this means everyone who uses a computer quite generally compose in print on the screen, in fully justified print if they so choose.

The Roman type font that originated in stone carving in ancient Rome long ago became the standard of printed text, and now every word processing program permits one to write directly in justified type exactly like that in which are "set" the best and clearest texts on the Web or in books. The lengthy intermediate steps from handwriting or even typewriting to the most readable text have now disappeared inside microsecondlong electronic processes.

The result of this symmetry is of course is that texts no longer have any special authority by dint of their form. There is no automatic need to accord anything already set in type with any more status than one possesses oneself. Texts lose the last of the aura of magic and mystery which they long held for the nearly unlettered and the highly literate alike. A new sort of democratic equality has emerged.
by Michael H. Goldhaber

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