Aaron Haspel and Craig Henry have a minor debate going on about the significance of the Internet, stemming from a Tom Wolfe quip.

My take is that sometimes a difference of degree becomes a difference in kind. The mere fact that we can speed up information retrieval is much more significant than Wolfe states. It’s not simply that it saves one a trip to the library or a long distance phone call. In the old days, much of what happens on the ‘Net simply wouldn’t have taken place. People search for information constantly now, owing to speed and ease, that they wouldn’t have bothered to have gone to the library for. It’s a lot easier and cheaper to e-mail grandma than call her and, frankly, the ability to time shift and time-limit the conversation is of immense value. While subjecting oneself to a two hour rambling about granny’s ailments at 25 cents a minute may be too much to endure, a couple of minutes reading an e-mail isn’t.

The ability to do things in the privacy of one’s home also has enormous consequences, although not necessarily good. Wolfe mentions adult book stores. Well, most communities don’t have adult book stores. And the fear of social stigma serves as a huge disencentive to frequent such places. The Internet removes that barrier, for good or ill.

FILED UNDER: Science & Technology
James Joyner
About James Joyner
James Joyner is Professor and Department Head of Security Studies at Marine Corps University's Command and Staff College. He's a former Army officer and Desert Storm veteran. Views expressed here are his own. Follow James on Twitter @DrJJoyner.