Barry Sonnenfeld: "The Internet will destroy democracy"

by Paul William Tenny

Barry Sonnenfeld wants you to know that either he's technophobic, or the Internet is going to destroy democracy. Yeah, you read that right. What most of us consider the greatest addition to democracy in centuries scares Sonnenfeld so bad that he thinks it's going to end the world. I'd expect this kind of nonsense from over-the-top religious people looking to stamp out smut and the like, or perhaps fear mongering fascists that understand what a threat the Internet represents to their power-through-ignorance campaigns.

But Barry Sonnenfeld? The guy who directed Men in Black? What?
The medium is the message, and the medium has invaded our home and taken over our minds. . . . The really scary part is how hypnotic it is. The 'Net is so pervasive that kids are on it all day.

Sure, but Sonnenfeld must also realize that adults spend all day on it too, right? What about all the kids that use the Internet as the worlds largest library of human knowledge, or kid doing their homework and just using computers but not the 'net at all? What about all the adults who use it for work and communication and actually need the damn thing to get anything done these days?

  • Pay your bills? Check.
  • Shop? Check.
  • File tax returns? Check.
  • Discover all manner of interesting and useless facts on Wikipedia? Check.
  • Get a degree with distance learning services and software? Check.
  • Download movies and TV shows (legally)? Check.
  • Update a spreadsheet from home that needs to be printed by morning? Check.
  • Talk to anyone, anytime, anywhere on the planet in real time? Check.
  • Take over a small country for your own? Not quite there yet.

What about privacy?

Sonnenfeld fears that children today will grow up with "no concept of the right to privacy and in fact not understand the need for it. Because the Facebook generation is not concerned with what people know about them . . . they will have no problem with additional governmental supervision, spying and intervention. They will be thrilled that the Internet will be able to follow their every move.

I think this is a very typical reaction to people who haven't been taught to look at both sides of a problem. Perhaps kids and young adults may not have the same appreciation for privacy that adults do today, but maybe that's just the natural evolution of our society. Just because Sonnenfeld isn't comfortable with it doesn't mean it's wrong. I still value my privacy as much as I did before the Internet became popular, perhaps even more so because of it, but I'm still more than willing to embrace the new found ability to release ungodly amounts of personal information to anyone that wants it, if it suits me.

Government spying, on the other hand, is a far larger problem. Pinning that on kids is simply wrong. I know plenty of well educated adults who have no problem with "additional governmental supervision, spying and intervention", a lot of them are in Congress and running for President as we speak. Many are fighting harder than they've ever fought before to bestow unrestricted domestic spying power on our own government, and think they are actually doing a good thing.

That brings me to my first and only point: the Internet is why we even know about these things. It is true that the New York Times broke the story on illegal domestic spying in the United States, but the Internet made it relevant. The 'net has kept the story alive, fought the abuses and informed people about what it all means. Blogs specifically have been instrumental in keeping Congress from passing the Protect AT&T act so far and is practically the only force pushing back against these abuses. John Marshall of Talking Points Memo -- a political blog -- broke the U.S. Attorney's scandal and kept it going until the mainstream press couldn't afford to ignore it completely.

While Sonnenfeld seems ready to leave our country safely in the hand of the beltway media pundit class (of which I am most certainly not a part of) right now, the Internet and its torrent of free-flowing information are the only thing I see keeping this country to its founding principles.

My only hope is the Bush administration has screwed things up so profoundly -- socially, economically and environmentally -- that perhaps they will be angered by how our generation has selfishly destroyed their future and will put down that computer," he said.

And yet the point is lost on him and others. Without the Internet he decries, the most unsexy yet devastatingly evil abuses of the Bush administration wouldn't be widely known. It's no secret that the press fell asleep at the wheel in 2002 and has been out cold ever since. Without this critical communications tool, I fear this country would be in a far worse position than it is today. To "put down that computer" is really to embrace that kind of blissful ignorance that the press has forced on us for much of the past decade and I reject that horrific notion in its entirety. If burning books was the most horrific sin of past generations, "putting down that computer" may very well be our own.
in Feature, Internet


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1 Comment

Amen to that, brother - and hey, if it weren't for the "internets", Keith's show would only be a half hour long.

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