Never-Better and Better-Never make up one category separate from Ever-Waser

In “The Information: How the Internet Gets Inside Us,” Adam Gopnik describes three categories of attitudes toward the notion that books no longer matter. I tried to understand the categories, and where I fit in, by looking at the basic claims with which their arguments begin.

Never-Betters and Better-Nevers seem to accept the idea that books no longer matter as either, optimistically, on the brink of becoming true (the situation has never been better); or, pessimistically, at risk of becoming true (it would be better if this situation had never come about). But I don’t think the Ever-Wasers (those who accept the claim and say “’twas ever thus”) necessarily accept the claim at all. They seem more concerned with explaining the phenomenon of “people acting as though books no longer matter.”

So my first point is that I think the first two categories are different from the third. Never-Better and Better-Never are more useful in describing our levels of anxiety about the technological revolution, while the Ever-Waser position is that it is not as new and different a revolution as people think.

The Ever-Waser is more concerned with explaining why people think the book no longer matters. I don’t really have an answer to that, but like the Ever-Waser, I am agnostic about whether technological change can be “good” or “bad.” Gopnik says that “If you’re going to give the printed book, or any other machine-made thing, credit for all the good things that have happened, you have to hold it accountable for the bad stuff, too.” But I (and I suspect Gopnik) think it’s simplistic to give any technology that much credit either way. Human behaviour and activity is heavily influenced by, but not determined by, the technology at hand. I think that makes me an Ever-Waser on that point. I also don’t think the communications / information / technology revolution is unprecedented. It does seem true to me that these types of revolutions happen throughout history. It might be “our” big social revolution, but more in the sense that every age has its perceived big social revolution.

Like the Never-Betters, I believe that “information [is becoming] more free and democratic” and somewhat agree that “news will be made from the bottom up.” This means that stories will be told from a wider array of perspectives which have been previously suppressed. The thing is, stories can be suppressed for good reasons (they are not true, they promote hatred, they are considered unimportant and are) or bad reasons (they are from oppressed groups in society, they counter the narrative that dominant power prefers, they are considered unimportant but are not). So I guess I’m an Ever-Waser on that point.

Like the Better-Nevers, I agree that “books and magazines create private space for minds in ways that twenty-second bursts of information don’t,” but I don’t think that means twenty-second bursts are somehow necessarily inferior. I definitely don’t think that “the world that is coming to an end is superior to the one that is taking its place,” in part because I don’t think it makes sense to say that there is a world that is coming to an end.

So I seem to be an Ever-Waser. I do take the warning to heart, though, about the Romans and the Vandals. Just because it’s happened so many times before doesn’t mean that this time, our fears will also not come true. I also don’t have any answer to the question: “If it was ever thus, how did it ever get to be thus in the first place?”

Huzzah For the Death of Amazon!

This week’s question intrigues me because although we’re talking about the major tech companies, the question includes asking what consumer choices would need to change, not what business choices would need to change. I can’t help but focus my answer to this question on the latter, specifically from a small press perspective.

I talked a little bit about what the death of Amazon would mean to small publishers in a reply to Trenton’s comment on Andre Staltz’s article “The Web Began Dying in 2014: Here’s How,” but I’ll expand my thinking now.

Assuming the death of Amazon would result in more people buying books at their local bookstores—chain or independent—it would also likely mean the rise of small publishers. It is easy to see how the death of Amazon would result in the rise of independent bookstores, because the need for local, physical bookstores would increase if Amazon didn’t exist, but I’m going to focus on how this change could have a positive impact for small publishers.

Amazon began as an online book retailer. They were able to game the system to offer books for cheap delivered right to your door, and consumers loved it. As Amazon grew, it became more and more convenient for publishers of all sizes to sell their books on Amazon. Many small publishers that are producing good books (I’m thinking of presses such as Bundoran, Tyche, and Undertow) aren’t able to sell their books in the chain stores like Chapters because they aren’t big enough to be able to afford the discounts they demand or to go through a traditional distributor like Raincoast. These publishers have to sell their books in other avenues, such as at local independent stores and at conventions and conferences. As I’m sure you can imagine, selling books this way makes it hard to bring in enough income to survive.

When print on demand companies started rising up, small publishers took advantage of the convenient printing options and the direct to Amazon (and other online retailers) options they provided—I talk more about this in an essay for John’s class. This allowed small publishers to have an online presence more so than they could with just their own website—as we unfortunately know, the average reader / consumer does not pay attention to who the publisher is for a book and is unlikely to buy books directly from a publisher’s website. Unfortunately, this did not necessarily result in more sales as, similar to the situation in large chain stores, it was difficult for small publishers to gain visibility among the mass numbers of books available on Amazon. There are ways to trick Amazon’s algorithms into showing your books at the top of search results (you can read a few of these tricks in Alexis Roumanis’ MPub project report), but it requires constant attention and the algorithms constantly change.

Thus, it is safe to say that, for small publishers, most sales happen when they are present at events, festivals, and conferences selling their books, and at their local independent bookstores because they do not have the infrastructure to spend a lot of time tricking Amazon results or to have the finances to buy visibility in either a chain store or Amazon. Small publishers depend a lot on sales at their local independent bookstores, and these bookstores are slowly dying because of the large chain stores and, especially, Amazon.

With the death of Amazon, independent bookstores will be able to thrive and expand, which would very likely result in books from small publishers becoming more visible and available to the average reader. More visibility ultimately leads to higher sales, as long as the product is good.

In conclusion, as much as I, as a consumer, love the convenience of Amazon, I can’t help but secretly wish and wonder what a world without Amazon would be like.

Thinking about Progress

The description that Gopnik provides in his article that “Ever-Wasers insist that at any moment in modernity something like this is going on, and that new way of organizing data and connecting users is always thrilling to some and chilling to others—that something like this is going on is exactly what makes it a modern moment,” regarding the three types of books about the Internet. Initially his description of Ever-Wasers stood out to me as the one that made the most sense out of the three. The Never-Better and Better-Never opinions were both too narrowminded. However, as Gopnik went on to add his commentary about the current digital landscape about “the age of the inverted self,” and “social networks” is where he loses me.

During one of my undergraduate history courses, we learned the philosophy of looking at history as progress. Historian E.H. Carr defines: “history in its essence is change, movement or progress.” If you believe history as progress, then the Ever-Waser description shares elements of that idea. That there is something coming along that can be distinguishable as significant regarding “the new way”, and the relationship between facts and values that reflects our view of society regarding that it can then be “thrilling to some and chilling to others.”

However, the Ever-Wasers description fails to encompass that there is progress going on. Rather, Gopnik points to “something like this” as a moment in modernity that is the sum of it all. The advancements of information technologies, the internet, machines, etc. can also viewed as progress, and not suspended in a single place and time. To answer, in the end I do not define or want to prescribe myself to any of the three classes that Gopnik describes. Instead, I would rather have my classmates consider the question: what progress means to you, and what is your definition of it? As for me, I think that history can be regarded as records of progress because the idea that things are getting better is what I believe is uncontested.

As a society, we are evidently living in the best era. No longer is life expectancy at the low age of 35, or that there is still a prominence of women dying during childbirth. The list of improvements humanity has made to sustain its life is all around us. I argue that Gopnik leans too heavily on seeing the Internet as harmful or an unprogressive force. While the internet does have the potential, and creates outlets for malice, like from some examples of internet commenting, it also provides greater opportunities to connect and engage with others in a positive way. I do not believe that how societies across the world being more connected is something not to be grateful for. I also want to add that progress in history is not continuous without its regressions or deviation, nor is there a finite goal of progress to not align this to the Better-Never category. But more to the idea that: if we are coming from somewhere, we are going somewhere as well.

 

 

 

Conspiracy Theories and the ability to adapt to Change

I like conspiracy theories, some of them at least. I do not believe in the majority of them though,  but they help me dimension the amount of change (or stagnation) we had experienced as society. “The man never landed in the moon” some say, yet others state firmly that “a scientific calculator of our days has more processing capacity than the computers that guided man during this epic voyage”. Still, a cautious third group asks: “Then why there are not already cities over the surface of the moon?” Fair question too.

Changes that had taken place in technology, economics and society during the last hundred years have been so rushed that our conception of “change” seems to have been warped; we forget our own limits as a species to adapt to new standards. It is difficult to conceive so many generations living together and trying to survive tide after tide of market pressures, fashions or work/living styles literally throwing new technologies, methods, laws, foods, etc. With the Internet is the same, we have learned to operate it, access it, and navigate it, yet, for all its power, we, as society, still do not know how to use it.

For ages, mankind survived using simple tools and complex technologies. It is hard to conceive people writing on Papyrus over millennia, carefully choosing (editing) the words that would be written in the treasured substrate. In an internet-connected world, such a task is no more wonder, information abounds and our new problem is how to distill it in order to get what we really need, even if that means ceding our privileges to AIs or mega-corporations to lead our thinking and behavior.

In The New Yorker’s “How the Internet gets inside us”, Adam Gopnik defines three types of change adopters: the Never-Betters, the Better-Nevers and the Ever-Wasers. At first it seems comfortable to be able to identify within (just) one of these schools, when reality is far more complex as Gopnik himself elaborates in his essay (he later revealed later to be switching among these “moods” in an interview published in the Montreal Gazette two months after the first article was published). So the whole subject would not be as which ideology appeals to one but rather how we can assimilate change or how much do we really need this change to happen as individuals and how much we are demanded to implement it in our society.

Some nations, like the Chinese, tended to have an historical perspective where change effects occur along centuries, while western civilizations have spent the last 500 years rushing towards an unknown and uncertain future nobody knows where it leads but everyone is certain we must rush forward as fast as we can.

And this is where those conspiracy theories come into play, they rebel against the prodigious wonders claimed by the Never-Bettters (must be Aliens!), the memory of a perfect world of the Better-Nevers (Kennedy!), and the apparent wisdom and neutrality of the Ever-Wasers. These theories remind us there are voices, that still pinpoint the map of the ever changing internet world, whatever it is, whatever the masses ascertain to be true. Flat earth can be refuted easily, the reply: Photoshop! What an ingenious answer!

Sometimes I really wish there was an Ice wall at the end of the world, at others I just see the pictures taken by the Hubble telescope, millions of years into the past. If the Universe were actually a Hologram, I could not care less, everything out there seems so far as to ever reach it or conceive it anyway. Mythology has not abandoned us, we are recreating it through the web, the internet has just not found time to settle in, after all, we are humans.

OW

The newest media monopoly

Back in 2001, I was a wide-eyed journalism student. Our professor was an award-winning journalist who kept us hanging onto his every word for the entire duration of his hour-long lectures. He introduced the concept of media monopoly to us, through the work of author Ben Bagdikian who wrote about it in a book by the same name. (And later an updated version called ‘The New Media Monopoly’). The media, Bagdikian maintained, was controlled by just five corporations: Disney, News Corporation, Time Warner, Viacom, and Bertelsmann. And because “media power [was] political power”, these companies were basically ruling the world. The world suddenly seemed a dreary place to us. And then 9/11 happened. It wasn’t difficult at the time to think that the world was on the brink of a collapse and perhaps we would all be the better for it rather than face what was coming.

The world, of course, didn’t collapse (or did it?), but it was perhaps that experience that cemented me as a Better-Never-Ever-Waser. I do believe that there’s a cyclical nature to the way things happen. The five giants of Bagdikian’s time have been replaced by the five of ours: Google, Facebook, Microsoft, Apple and Amazon. These are our media now and they have exerted enough power to topple governments and establish dubious ones. It’s monopoly 101, just that, whereas the previous companies threatened our freedom of expression, their counterparts today offer it to us on a platter, albeit with disclaimers and privacy agreements no one reads. Who wants to read the fine print and miss out on the party, eh? Indeed, for Apple and their ilk it has never been better; never have people had these many avenues to express themselves; never before have people been able to connect with others from far-flung corners of the world. Through the rose-tinted glasses all the tech giants want us to wear, the world is a wondrous place full of fluffy cats and one-pot dinners. Perhaps we deserve the imperialism that we live under, because it is we that have accorded so much more power to the companies that rule us now. We have become so used to the conveniences, we don’t want to extend ourselves, even if to protect our privacy and our right to lead a life on our own terms. But even as I say this, I’m not sure what the solution is. Should I, like my siblings, consciously refuse to be on any social media platform? Should I stubbornly stick to buying printed books from local bookstores as opposed to Amazon? Should I, like my mother, believe in face-time instead of FaceTime? I’m not sure whether these are the answers. But, perhaps, we need a lot of such small acts of rebellion. They might not stem the tide, but they might keep it in check.

A New Something – Gopnik’s Never-Better-Wasers

I wish that I could call myself a Never-Better. I do not deny that there have been leaps in information technology in recent history. While I believe we are on the brink of something, I can not confidently declare that that something is a “new utopia,” as Gopnik describes. Unless an awful lot changes, I do not think it is realistic to assume that all information will be free (although I admit I am still holding out for those cookies that bake themselves…). There is currently an ocean of free resources online (whether or not they have been put out there legally), but that ocean may not always be as fruitful. If a Google/Facebook/Amazon regime is truly in our future, it seems unlikely that anything would be free at that point.

However, I don’t know that I am a Better-Never, either. I am glad the internet happened. I am glad that I am able to watch movies and listen to music from my phone. I am glad that I can research options for the best daycare for my dog, and read real user testimonials that inform my decision. I grew up during the dawn of Google. I remember when I had to (or perhaps, got to) look things up at the library, or in an encyclopedia, and I remember that for all their use and glory, sometimes those resources just didn’t provide what I was looking for. Imagine how different university would be without Google, or YouTube, or Thesaurus.com. Both teachers and students have, in a way, become habitually reliant on the internet for free resources. Social media may often times be distracting, but sites like Facebook can also provide networking opportunities to assist in research, job searches, etc. Despite the potential nostalgia “simpler times” my bring, there are so many more ways to learn and connect with people now that the internet as an information and communication platform exists and has developed to what it is today, with whatever faults it may include.

Maybe all that means I’m an Ever-Waser. Every age has its technological leap. From architecture, to medicine, to how things are made, something big is always happening on what ends up being a global scale. For better or worse, the world of technology is always evolving, and now seems to be the Internet’s turn. No one can say where it will end up for certain, or what collateral damage might occur in the crossfire. Whether it’s a “new utopia” or something far more dark and unpropitious, you’d be hard pressed to find someone who things that we are not on the brink of another technological revolution.

 

 

— Jesse Savage

The Fluidity of Never-Betters and Better-Nevers

In his article “The Information: How the Internet gets inside us“, Adam Gopnik defines three groups of people that describe how society interacts with and thinks about technology. The three groups are the “Never-Betters”, the “Better-Nevers”, and the “Ever-Wasers”. Gopnik’s main argument is that some people are overly optimistic about technology (the Never-Betters), some people are overly pessimistic about technology (the Better-Nevers), and finally that some people have what Gopnik views as a rational and well adjusted view of technology (the Ever-Wasers). The key to being an Ever-Waser is to not fear or demonize the technology but to also believe that the technology will not miraculously solve all of society’s problems and that new technology will often recreate similar structures that already exist.

The defining feature of Never-Betters is that every new technological development is met with optimism that it will somehow change the world for the better. For example the ideology that the web will remove barriers so that everyone’s voice can be heard is a very positive message that Never-Betters would use to explain the potential for positive social change. However it ignores the fact that it also provides a platform for voices that spread hateful messages. Similarly people point to the Arab Spring and how through social media large groups of people were able to come together and remove oppressive governments from positions of power; what it ignores is that these same social media platforms can also be used by radical hate groups to stage violent protests such as the white supremacists that gathered in Charlottesville. The Never-Betters by definition are looking towards a hopeful future and that technology is a potential key to progress.

Conversely the Better-Nevers view technology as an unknown and potentially dangerous change. The Better-Nevers look at the past as the definition of what is good and that has society makes changes that distance itself from the past those changes are detrimental; if the Never-Betters look to the future with rose coloured glasses than the Better-Nevers look to the past in this way. They see how new technology changes society, view it as for the worst, and ignore how other technology that they grew up around did very comparable things. For example Better-Nevers will point to how people don’t socialize as much anymore because they are busy using their phones but they don’t necessarily have a problem with people watching television for hours. One form of technology is viewed as isolating people and the other brings people together when in actuality both involve spending time with a screen. The defining feature of the Better-Nevers is that every new technological development (outside of technology that already existed) should be met with fear or suspicion.

These are obviously simplifications of groups of people that paint Never-Betters as naive and Better-Nevers are stuck in the past. I do not believe that people fit neatly within either category and that people’s interactions with technology is far more fluid. A Never-Better may be resistant to change and when YouTube makes large changes to their interface they may respond with anger and fear that the website will never be the same. Each individual exists on a spectrum and their position on the spectrum is ever changing.

These are all it ever was

We all see how technology is changing and it can be quite scary. It touches all grounds possible, from lifestyle to business. And most certainly publishing. The traditional publishing industry was segmented into newspaper, book and magazine. However, due to the rising of technological era, we now have e-book, online newspaper and online magazine. The arrival of those three certainly shifts the market, affecting the consumer behavior, thus changing the economic growth and society in general.

The way the society think of this change differs. Adam Gopnik in The New Yorker’s 2011 article titled “How The Internet Gets Inside Us” perfectly captures how we, as society, perceive this technological change, especially towards the internet. First and foremost, I would classify myself as one of the Ever-Wasers. I think that the internet is simply the latest revolution in a long line of information technologies that people imagine will transform who we are, how we think and how we live our life, for either good or bad. It is not a new thing and it has been happening from century to century, time to time and it is not as revolutionary as it first seems.

I would like to touch base on how this apply to the Publishing industry. Ronte (2000) stated that technology has had and still has a “dramatic” effect on the publishing industry. As you all may know, technology, especially internet, have eliminated most boundaries in our life, from time to distance. Essentialy, we now can publish, market and sell our publications anytime, anywhere, and to anyone. Although it’s true that the making of digital publication requires great amount of investment , the speed of digital distribution and lowers marginal cost for electronic copies can add more value to the customers and will be beneficial for the publisher in the long run, especially to the next generation who use technologies more often.

And now let’s talk about the economic measure. The law of supply and demand rules books as tangible product. Changes in demand or supply will lead to an increase or decrease in the market equilibrium of price and quantity. These changes happen through a change in price of  complements or substitutes goods, a change in income level and customers’ purchasing power, as well as a change in preference. As you all know, the demand of traditionally printed books, magazines and newspapers are decreasing gradually due to the introduction of new technologies such as e-books, online magazines and online newspapers. The question is : can we say that e-books, online magazines and online newspapers are substitutes to traditionally printed books, magazines and newspapers? Or is it simply a complementary to the old technology that already exists? Is it just another new “improvement” to the long line that we already establish as “technology” itself?

Substitution effect happens when there’s “a change in the quantity demanded that results because buyers switch to substitutes when the price of the good changes” (McDowell, Thom, Frank & Bernanke, 2009, p.67). If we translate this to the industry, it is said that when the price of e-publications increases, the demand of printed publications increases, and vice versa. Fortunately, this is not the case in the publishing industry. “The publishing industry treats the e-book just as another format, releasing the same titles in hardcover, book-on-tape, and e-book at the same time” (Gall, 2005, p.27). “Children’s books, for example, will always remain paper-based, as young children are unlikely to handle computers” (Ronte, 2000, p.19). In the article ‘Dispelling Five Myths about E-books’, Gall (2005, p.27) notes that “the e-book will be an electronic savior of text, replacing the printed word in the same way as the printed word replaced oral traditions”. It’s true, remembering that fact that most readers still prefer printed book for many reasons like the feel of the weight, the texture of the paper, or simply the smell of it. In your books, Better-Nevers!

Now let’s get back to Gopnik. Although all these changes seem revolutionary, we also have to keep in mind that Elon Musk is taking us to Mars, commercially. Is that something revolutionary? Perhaps. But has it been done before? Yes. We had landed on the moon, and Mars is just another sphere which happens to be located much further away. The point is, we DID land on a strange territory before, thus if we are doing the same thing but better, it is not something revolutionary, but much more to what we should expect to be happening along the line, especially with technology.

So where do we stand here? I simply do not know. I have friends whom I would like to classify as the Never-Better because the enjoy the democracy of information the internet provides. Very few are the Better-nevers, and much to my liking, a lot of them are Ever-Wasers. Although I would like to say that changes are bound to happen, either for the good or the bad, and there will always be consequences from it. It all comes back to how society perceive, learn and adapt. It depends on how they process the information and how they put it into use.

Never-Ever-Better-Wasers

In the New Yorker article The information: How the Internet Gets Inside Us, Gopnik discusses how all people fall into three classes when it comes to new technologies: the Never-Betters, the Better-Nevers, and the Ever-Wasers, meaning ‘fully embracing new technology,’ ‘actively against new technology,’ and ‘somewhere in between, recognizing there will be good and bad with each new technology, and that new technologies creating a divided reaction has always been going on,’ in that order.

As with all sets of terms that attempt to divide humanity up into neat little boxes, I think these three terms are pretty reductive. Where people fall would be a spectrum where the Never-Betters represent the polar positive, the Better-Nevers represent the polar negative, and the Ever-Wasers are everything in between. According to these definitions. (I would also like propose that the Ever-Wasers seem like a bit of a side step to the whole categorization here for including the recognition of the societal condition of constant split opinions to new technologies. That recognition should instead be another layer, a yes or no, for all three labels, along the entire spectrum).

There are always going to be portions of society that love the way things are and are resistant to change/developing technologies, and likewise there will always be those who welcome and invite innovation and newness in technologies. But, for the most part, I think society has come to see how often technology gets revolutionized and has come to expect thorough redesigns of how things work as a consequence.

Every time a smartphone, Apple or Android, releases a radical OS/iOS update that completely changes look, feel, maybe even layout and functionality, people gripe about it, because there is a stutter in convenience while they relearn how to use their phone. But then they get used to it, and to revert back to the old OS would seem almost as alien as a new OS. The speed at which OS’s are updated and replaced has created an anxiety of sorts, an almost-constant expectation that, soon, everything will change. The speed at which we, in developed cities in North America, not a global we, experience these constant updates and changes, I think has numbed us to the idea of technological change as we have experienced in our lives, not just researched in history, revolution after revolution of technology.

Therefore Ever-Wasers, being the broadest option, I believe captures who we are as a society more than the other two terms.

Never-Betters Need to Calm Down

As Gopnik says, “One’s hopes rest with the Never-Betters; one’s head with the Ever-Wasers; and one’s heart? Well, twenty or so books in, one’s heart tends to move toward the Better-Nevers, and then bounce back toward someplace that looks more like home.” By definition, “hope” is that feeling we get that everything is going to turn out for the best, and therefore I think we are all, at least aspirationally, Never-Betters. We are always excited to read of new discoveries being made and progress in dark places. And what a wonderful world it would be if we could sustain ourselves on these utopian thoughts forever. Unfortunately for everyone who cannot stand by and let ignorance be bliss, we all inevitably fall to the Never-Betters’ side where we second guess new development. I was getting by just fine before this new thing, why do I have to change? It is easy to point out flaws in something that is new, and equally as easy to find others who share such an opinion. This is how innovation gets interrupted and change is abated. Before it happens we are excited Never-Betters, when it happens we are outraged Better-Nevers, and down the road, when it has settled comfortably into society and, we are contented Ever-Wasers. Our heads win out in the end.

http://www.todayonline.com/technology-0/tech-throwback-weird-things-we-used-do-msn-messenger

My personal example is MSN Messenger. This service was a constant in my elementary and early highschool days. Every day I would leave my friends after school and go home, only to strike up a new conversation with them immediately upon reaching my computer. Technologies change, and I used MSN Messenger less and less. When Microsoft announced in 2012 that it would be discontinuing the service, I was shocked and outraged. How were kids of the next generation going to keep in touch with their friends? How would they tell their crush they liked them only to say “sry that was my friend” when the crush didn’t reply? How would they nonchalantly let everyone know how edgy and sexy their lives were if not by setting their screen names to alternative rock lyrics? How could Microsoft do this to today’s youth? This was anarchy! Sure, I no longer used the service myself, but it was still anarchy! Time moved on, and apparently so did I (although a Google search to find the picture I posted along with this post brought up some emotional memories) and I have come out the other side relatively unscathed.

The lesson here is that the Never-Betters would be better off giving up their backlashing tendencies. Change is going to happen, whether we like it or not. It is up to us to decide how it will affect us. I am going to feel personally attacked every time Apple decides to release a new iOS update, but if past experience is anything to go by, we will make it through with little to no casualties. If only we could move gracefully between being Never-Betters and Ever-Wasers, perhaps change would progress a little more easily, and society would be a little better off because of it.

Never-Better, Better-Never, Ever-Waser… Or?

While reading Gopnik’s treatise The Information, I tried to categorize myself into one of the groups he describes: in the face of the Digital Age and the naturalization of the Internet in our everyday lives, am I a Never-Better, Better-Never, or Ever-Waser? My experience with the Internet could place me into any camp. As a Never-Better I have benefitted countless times the seemingly magical qualities of the internet: the mirror which lets me speak face-to-face with my family while living eight thousand kilometers away; the invisible brain which helps me decipher any question; the oracle in my pocket which brings missives about friends, foes, and the weather. My life is inarguably better for these technologies. But I can also be cynical: as a Millenial Better-Never, I long for the days I never knew when lived experience was prime. I imagine it was a time when one’s thoughts, actions, reading habits and desires didn’t seem constantly covered by a cloud of surveillance, and where marketing existed in its corner and didn’t bleed into one’s mental space. But really, if I’m going to be honest, did those days actually exist? A Better-Never’s nostalgia is a trick – a coping mechanism – a denial of accepting humans as eternally fallible creatures no matter the technological era. The Never-Better’s idealism is a kind of trick, too: the Internet today is not magic, but human-made– and in human hands, prone to any of the misabuses humans can commit, no matter the technological era.

This leaves me to consider myself an Ever-Waser. As a generally pragmatic person this category does make sense. Dr. Hannah McGregor encapsulated the Ever-Was worldview during the introduction to our Publishing History seminar: new media doesn’t eradicate old media, it merely reframes the technological landscape. As a nascent publisher, especially one with an interest in disseminating art in honest and inspiring ways, I have to embrace the new media landscape of the Internet, taking comfort in the idea that non-digital forms still have a place somewhere and that art has survived, and even thrived, through every technological epoch. Placed cozily in this camp, I can calm myself in the face of an uncertain future and move steadily forward with a publishing practice.

When considering these categories for society as a whole, however, it’s hard to be as pragmatic. If the global socio-political events of the past two years have taught us anything, it’s that it’s impossible to lump society into one homogenous, agreeable group. What do we mean by “society”, anyway? From my subject position I could say society is North America, is the Western world, are English-speaking countries, is the Internet-using population – until the borders of the definition stretch so far around the globe that they meet at the other side and then there are no borders at all. Within this borderless, Global Society, there are still innumerable camps of Never-Betters, Better-Nevers, Ever-Wasers, each with their own subjectivities and agendas for using the Internet. Instead I want to suggest a fourth category to add to Gopnik’s taxonomy: the Never-Wasers. Never before has the world had the kind of situation we have now. It is one in which the power structures that exist in the physical world don’t hold the same control in a digital world: marginalized subjectivities now have the opportunity to address or circumvent these structures without violence or physical upheaval, an ability undeniably aided by the Internet. Furthermore, there is a new player: the technology itself, the machine learning that is becoming embedded in the nature of the digital world and which is affecting the reality of the socio-political, physical, ecological world. Gopnik writes: “It is the wraparound presence… of the machine that oppresses us,” and that “our contraptions may shape our consciousness, but it is our consciousness that makes our credos, and we mostly live by those.” However, we’ve moved beyond the fact of the Internet being merely a “presence” or “contraption.” It is a society in and of itself, a virtual reality overlaid a physical one, but with no less real repercussions. Human “consciousness” and thus “credos” are influenced, expanded and rewired in the face of a multitude of subjectivities and an extra layer of reality, the human world will expand, collapse, and change in ways we can, at this moment, only speculate.

Never-Betters, Better-Nevers, and Ever-Wasers

When I was young, Walmart opened in my town of 8000. I refused to go. We’d just read a short story in school about the Confederation Bridge, and how when it opened the ferries shuttling people from the mainland to PEI and back were losing all of their business and were going to have to close down. I’d never been on a ferry, and I thought that now I was never going to have the chance. If I went to PEI I’d have to drive. So I was not going to support Walmart. What if it meant the end of the rest of the stores in town?

Back then, I was a Better-Never. I wanted to go back in time to when things were whole and happy; to the places in my favourite historical fiction novels and to the time before my parents got divorced.  But as I grew I realized that the past is not as cheery as we would like to believe, and that there is a lot of important information that has been left out of history. I took an undergrad psychology class where we talked about our tendency to give the past glowing reviews, which as Google reminded me is known as “rosy retrospection.” And I realized that the future has its perks, like how time-saving a 10-minute drive is compared to a 75-minute ferry ride (and yes, they are still operating the ferry).

So it’s true what Adam Gopnik says in “The Information: How the Internet gets inside us”: the more you read, the more your “heart tends to move toward the Better-Nevers, and then bounce back toward someplace that looks more like home.” I read and read and continue to read, and although talk of Artificial Intelligence sometimes makes me want to run right back to the Better-Never camp, I tend to spend most of my time with the Ever-Wasers.

For the most part I am logical and contemplative (or so I like to believe). Of course it makes sense that something is always going on, and that that something will have its pros and cons. The world is not stagnant, stuck between the past and the future. We are in the present, and things are happening all around us. And because of that, it’s hard to take a step back and try and pinpoint where our society as a whole is at.

I’m not sure that we can classify our entire society as either Never-Betters, Better-Nevers, or Ever-Wasers. As Gopnik points out, all three kinds tend to show up at every discussion regarding new technologies. To pick just one to be a snapshot of our time would be to leave many other important voices out of the conversation. For example, just because Donald Trump takes up an enormous space chanting about how America needs to me made great again does not negate the other half of the population championing LGBT rights, women’s rights, and other liberal values. There will always be people on both sides of issues and innovation, and multi-sided discussions, however wild and inaccurate they may be, are a cornerstone of democracy. We need to have space to discuss changes and innovations as a society, lest we fall victim to confirmation bias or worse.

As history and the Better-Nevers know, innovation intended to better our lives often has unintended negative consequences. We need the Never-Betters to push us towards innovation, but we also need people with foresight to consider repercussions of innovations (and these are often the people who study the past) to offer criticism and feedback. Depending on how you define our society, there will always be hundreds of thousands, if not millions (or even billions), of people with their own opinions and ideas. All types of people play a role in the pace we evolve at and the decisions we make. We are never just one thing.