What is the internet for?
I just finished rewatching the film Good Night, and Good Luck, the story of newsman Edward R. Murrow and his team who reported on Senator Joseph McCarthy’s communist conspiracy crusade. Their work helped turn the tide against McCarthy's campaign that was damaging the lives of many people and organizations.
Towards the end of the movie the head of Murrow’s network informed him that because certain sponsors were backing away from the show due to its controversial coverage, as well as entertainment shows performing better, that he would be demoted from a primetime on weekdays to Sunday evening. Dismayed by the change and yet hopeful about the future, Murrow spoke about the still young medium of television. He said of sponsors and skeptics,
“If they are right and this instrument is good for nothing but to entertain, amuse and insulate then the tube is flickering now and we will soon see that the whole struggle is lost.” But adding his own belief he said, "This instrument can teach. It can illuminate and it can even inspire. But it can do so only to the extent that humans are determined to use it towards those ends. Otherwise, it is merely wires and lights in a box.”
I listened to those final lines a couple of times because it struck me that I could be having the same conversation today about computers, smartphones and internet. Murrow believed television was for more than just entertainment and losing one’s self in the moment. The question is: do we believe the same thing about the internet? If so, what steps are each of us taking to show our “determination to use it towards those ends”?
Much like the stewardship required inside an organization to steward over what it stands for, the internet requires the same. Do we say we believe in the power of the internet to change people and yet only use it for cat videos and emojis? This isn’t to say life shouldn’t have enjoyable parts too, it should. But what are each of us doing to elevate ourselves and our small corner of the world as well? The hard part is that this requires commitment to do stuff that isn’t fun. I once heard the author Elizabeth Gilbert say,
"Everything that is interesting is 90% boring. And we are in a culture that’s addicted to the good part, the exciting part, the fun part, the reward. But every single thing that I think is fascinating is mostly boring.”
People occasionally tell me they think I’m a good writer. It delights me to hear that and all I can say in return is, “thank you and it was only through a lot of practice that I became good at it". As we think about what these devices and connectivity are for, I think one example might also help illuminate how we weigh hard, complex stuff against light and fun stuff. A couple neurologists studied
learning in the workplace and technology helping to make it easier and more friendly. Despite the good intentions of these technologies research shows that while this increases the completion rate that employees aren’t learning the material because they didn’t have to extend enough effort.
While history can be frustrating or embarrassing at moments, I am often comforted by it when I see that many of the problems we face today have happened before.
Go Forth Boldly