I would like to state that your argument was very closed-minded, because the good points of the internet were overlooked. Ignoring the facts wont make them go away. As you stated websites can be broadly categorized into 2 types: websites that provide learning opportunities, and the ones that do not add up to our leaning. Well, YouTube cannot be classified as a website that does not add learning, because is does indeed provide us with informative videos, news, documentaries, and even movies that can add to our knowledge. Social media is also very important, as our friends and relatives might not always be next door for us to walk into their house. They might be in another country, or somewhere far away, and it can be very impractical to travel to their place, just to talk to them for a few minutes. For example, I have lived in 4 different countries so far, and I have friends in those countries. The only way i can talk to them is by email, or Skype or Facebook, and they all use the help of internet to function. The world has been a smaller place because of the internet, and I think an individual does not have the right to criticize it, when one uses it himself/ herself.
You also stated that the internet is very inefficient, but i couldn't disagree more. When browsing on the internet for something, you are given access to a wide range of information, fortunately sometimes even much more than you need. The browser should be aware of the websites that he should looks through, and should also be aware of his time limitations (if he has any). And i would like to reiterate, that it is ones desire to use the internet, and most people (like you and me) have decided to use it because it is undoubtedly very helpful.
Storing precious information online, would definitely not be an ideal way to keep it safe. But thankfully, some internet sites come along with proper and secure methods to keep it safe; like the use of passwords and usernames. Preserving everything physically, might not always be safe, as it can be stolen, unlike when it is stored digitally, surrounded by passwords and other security systems.
Moreover, you have stated that "Much of our face to face interaction has been replaced by the internet", when it is the internet that provides us with (2 dimension) face to face interaction, with someone who is very far away. Going outside to meet someone might not always be practical and easy, and the internet has undoubtedly helped us to get over with the difficulties. It has given us the opportunity to communicate with someone who is one the other side of the world, and it has helped us in so many other ways, that it is inappropriate to criticize the internet, by using the internet.
Don't worry, this is my first debate too...I don't know the proper method to debate either. Your's was a very hard argument to go against, but i hope I have managed to provide you with valid points.
Looking forward to your response,
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I would like to begin by saying that I don't believe my argument about the use of the Internet was closed-minded at all. I did acknowledge that all websites have potential to be used in good, educational ways. I completely agree that all websites do provide learning opportunities. That being said, my argument was that in reality, this is not how we use the websites. To counter your example, yes Youtube has millions of videos that will provide stimulating thought, and help us gain perspective and learn. However, take a moment and go look at the "trending" tab on Youtube right now, what do you see there? I see a whole lot of videos that will provide a good laugh, but very little genuine knowledge to be gained. I believe this shows that the way in which we are using these sites is more for entertainment than for education, which of course would be fine, since we all need to relax and be entertained at times. The problem I have identified with this is that we spend too much time on these sites, doing unproductive things, which end up detracting from our learning. Bringing this back to the original argument, when reading a book, it's easy to get sucked in and spend hours on end learning, since the distractions aren't there to take your attention away. It is for this reason, along with others to follow, that I argue the Internet is not better than books, when it comes to value added to learning.
Moving on to social media, I once again agree with what you have put forward about the Internet providing us a way to connect with people we normally would not be able to see with ease. Unfortunately, this again is a very small percentage of how social media is actually used, and I will again argue the cons outweigh the pros. First of all, social media has provided our generation with the need for instant communication. It's no longer acceptable to us to have to wait to tell someone something, no matter how mundane it may be. As soon as something happens we feel the need to tell everyone. This has significantly hurt the quality of conversation between youth, as we no longer seek out face to face meetings, where we get to practice things like non-verbal cues. Further to this, I would estimate that 90% of communication via social media is with peers who live within a 10 minute bike ride of each other. So while I see where you are coming from, saying social media connects distant people, it does significantly more harm to people who could easily be communicating in person, by giving them a medium to bypass the need for real interaction.
Further, on the topic of "real" interaction, electronic modes of communication dehumanize people. When talking to someone online, you don't feel the consequences of saying mean and hurtful things to those people, it takes much of the emotional aspect out of the equation. While it is true social media may be opening us up to more communication, the level of our connection is dropping at an alarming rate, which is really hurting our ability to maintain healthy relationships.
To briefly revisit the argument of security, I simply cannot agree with your argument that information stored online is safe. Your perspective is wrong on this, as you are considering the issue on a personal level. While it is true that your own precious content is safe, it is not because you use a username and password. I can promise you there are hundreds of thousands of people who could gain access to your Facebook, Twitter, Gmail, and all other accounts within minutes. You know what it really is that keeps people like you and I safe? It's the fact that no one cares about the stuff we are protecting. No one wants to read my essays, or see the pictures from my latest vacation. If we took a better perspective on this issue, we would see that the information people want is the information that will be valuable to them, and who has that information? Corporations, governments, and large databases. These are the institutions who need to be afraid of storing information digitally, and they are, because they are constantly under attack. I guarantee these organizations do not protect their information with a simple username and password, it's much more complicated than that, and unfortunately hackers are often much more advanced than their systems. For example, look at the hacktivist group "Anonymous" . They have shown on multiple occasions that they have the power to access digital information, which we considered safe. Take this as proof that although physical books can be stolen, information stored online can be stolen too, without even being in the same country.
Finally, I would like to quickly refute your argument that I can't criticize the Internet because I use the Internet. That is equivalent to you saying I cannot dislike the pen I write with because I am writing with it. While I may use the Internet as a tool, I do believe there are better, more efficient ways of communicating, gathering information, and learning. I think I have provided sufficient evidence for those beliefs throughout this debate, and to try and discredit that with a shallow argument such as this one does not do justice to the otherwise thought-provoking debate we have participated in over the last few days.
Thus concludes my side of the debate, I have thoroughly enjoyed it and found it to be quite intriguing. All the best, and maybe we can do this again in the future.
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Reading, said the great English essayist Matthew Arnold, “is culture.” Given the condition of reading test scores among school children nationwide, it isn’t surprising to find both our nation and our culture in trouble. Further, the rush to internetize all schools, particularly K–12, adds to our downward spiral. If it were not for the Harry Potter books one might lose all hope who languishes here. Then, suddenly, you realize libraries really are in trouble, grave danger, when important higher-education officials opine, “Don’t you know the internet has made libraries obsolete?” Gadzooks! as Harry himself might say.
In an effort to save our culture, strike a blow for reading, and, above all, correct the well-intentioned but horribly misguided notions about what is fast becoming intertopia among many nonlibrarian bean counters, here are 10 reasons why the Internet is no substitute for a library.
1. Not Everything Is on the Internet
With billions of web pages you couldn’t tell it by looking. Nevertheless, a sizeable amount of substantive materials is not on the Internet for free. For example, only about 8% of all journals are on the web, and an even smaller fraction of books are there. Both are costly! If you want the Journal of Biochemistry, Physics Today, Journal of American History, you’ll pay, and to the tune of hundreds of thousands of dollars.
2. The Needle (Your Search) in the Haystack (the Web)
The internet is like a vast uncataloged library. Whether you’re using Google or any one of a dozen other search or metasearch engines, you’re not searching the entire web. Sites often promise to search everything but they can’t deliver. Moreover, what they do search is not updated daily, weekly, or even monthly, regardless of what’s advertised. If a librarian told you, “Here are 10 articles on Native Americans. We have 40 others but we’re not going to let you see them, not now, not yet, not until you’ve tried another search in another library,” you’d throw a fit. The internet does this routinely and no one seems to mind.
3. Quality Control Doesn’t Exist
Yes, we need the internet, but in addition to all the scientific, medical, and historical information (when accurate), there is also a cesspool of waste. When young people aren’t getting their sex education off XXX-rated sites, they’re learning politics from the Freeman Web page, or race relations from Klan sites. There is no quality control on the web, and there isn’t likely to be any. Unlike libraries where vanity press publications are rarely, if ever, collected, vanity is often what drives the internet. Any fool can put up anything on the web, and, to my accounting, all have.
4. What You Don’t Know Really Does Hurt You
The great boon to libraries has been the digitization of journals. But full-text sites, while grand, aren’t always full. What you don’t know can hurt you:
- articles on these sites are often missing, among other things, footnotes;
- tables, graphs, and formulae do not often show up in a readable fashion (especially when printed); and
- journal titles in a digitized package change regularly, often without warning.
A library may begin with X number of journals in September and end with Y number in May. Trouble is, those titles aren’t the same from September to May. Although the library may have paid $100,000 for the access, it’s rarely notified of any changes. I would not trade access to digitized journals for anything in the world, but their use must be a judicious, planned, and measured one, not full, total, and exclusive reliance.
5. States Can Now Buy One Book and Distribute to Every Library on the Web—NOT!
Yes, and we could have one national high school, a national university, and a small cadre of faculty teaching everybody over streaming video. Let’s take this one step further and have only digitized sports teams for real savings! (Okay, I know, I’ve insulted the national religion.) From 1970 to 2001 about 50,000 academic titles have been published every year. Of these 1.5 million titles, fewer than a couple thousand are available. What is on the internet are about 20,000 titles published before 1925. Why? No copyright restrictions that cause prices to soar to two or three times their printed costs. Finally, vendors delivering e-books allow only one digitized copy per library. If you check out an e-book over the Web, I can’t have it until you return it. Go figure, as they say. And if you’re late getting the book back, there is no dog-ate-my-homework argument. It’s charged to your credit card automatically.
6. Hey, Bud, You Forgot about E-book Readers
Most of us have forgotten what we said about microfilm (“It would shrink libraries to shoebox size”), or when educational television was invented (“We’ll need fewer teachers in the future”). Try reading an e-book reader for more than a half-hour. Headaches and eyestrain are the best results. Moreover, the cost of readers runs from $200 to $2,000, the cheaper ones being harder on the eyes. Will this change? Doubtless, but it won't stop the publication of books.
7. Aren’t There Library-less Universities Now?
Not really. The newest state university in California at Monterey opened without a library building a few years ago. For the last two years, they’ve been buying books by the tens of thousands because—surprise, surprise—they couldn’t find what they needed on the internet. California Polytechnic State University, home of the world’s highest concentration of engineers and computer geeks, explored the possibility of a virtual (fully electronic) library for two years. Their solution was a $42-million traditional library with, of course, a strong electronic component. In other words, a fully virtualized library just can’t be done. Not yet, not now, not in our lifetimes.
8. But a Virtual State Library Would Do It, Right?
Do what, bankrupt the state? Yes, it would. The cost of having everything digitized is incredibly high, costing tens of millions of dollars just in copyright releases. And this buys only one virtual library at one university. Questia Media, the biggest such outfit, spent $125 million digitizing 50,000 books released (but not to libraries!). At this rate, to virtualize a medium-sized library of 400,000 volumes would cost a mere $1,000,000,000! Then you need to make sure students have equitable access everywhere they need it, when they need it. Finally, what do you do with rare and valuable primary sources once they are digitized? Take them to the dump? And you must hope the power never, ever goes out. Sure, students could still read by candlelight, but what would they be reading?
9. The Internet: A Mile Wide, an Inch (or Less) Deep
Looking into the abyss of the internet is like vertigo over a void. But the void has to do not only with what’s there, but also with what isn’t. Not much on the internet is more than 15 years old. Vendors offering magazine access routinely add a new year while dropping an earlier one. Access to older material is very expensive. It’ll be useful, in coming years, for students to know (and have access to) more than just the scholarly materials written in the last 10 to15 years.
10. The Internet Is Ubiquitous but Books Are Portable
In a recent survey of those who buy electronic books, more than 80% said they like buying paper books over the internet, not reading them on the web. We have nearly 1,000 years of reading print in our bloodstream and that’s not likely to change in the next 75. Granted, there will be changes in the delivery of electronic materials now, and those changes, most of them anyway, will be hugely beneficial. But humankind, being what it is, will always want to curl up with a good book—not a laptop—at least for the foreseeable future.
The web is great; but it’s a woefully poor substitute for a full-service library. It is mad idolatry to make it more than a tool. Libraries are icons of our cultural intellect, totems to the totality of knowledge. If we make them obsolete, we’ve signed the death warrant to our collective national conscience, not to mention sentencing what’s left of our culture to the waste bin of history. No one knows better than librarians just how much it costs to run a library. We’re always looking for ways to trim expenses while not contracting service. The internet is marvelous, but to claim, as some now do, that it’s making libraries obsolete is as silly as saying shoes have made feet unnecessary.
This article originally appeared in American Libraries, April 2001, p. 76–78, modified slightly January 2010.