November 29, 2007

This blogging life: The InterWeb makes people lazy and stupid

Every few days, I get e-mail saying something like, "I'm sending this to you because you're the only person whose address I can find on the Language Log site."  The mail is really intended for some specific other blogger, or offers a topic that some one of us (not necessarily me) might want to blog about.

Over the years, hundreds of such messages.  And then, this morning, a similar message about the eggcorn database:

This ["daring-do"] is probably not a new eggcorn [it isn't], it seems so obvious, but I couldn't find it mentioned in Language Log, and I'm not sure how to find the eggcorn database that's mentioned every so often, so I can't be sure this has already been documented.  [Many Language Log postings about eggcorns, including my recent lolcat/eggcorn posting, have links to the ecdb in them.]

Why are people so incompetent at finding e-addresses and web addresses?  The hypothesis I've developed is that the InterWeb -- the conglomeration of the Internet and the World Wide Web -- makes people lazy and stupid.  Here's this amazing resource, which allows people to track down all sorts of arcane information within (at most) minutes, yet the users have come to expect that sites will be designed to offer them a single-click route to whatever they want.  That's just lazy.  And they seem to have lost the ability to search things out for themselves.  The InterWeb has made them stupid.

[Yes, I'm being hyperbolic here, and I understand that people have always been lazy and not very knowledgeable about how to find information.  I don't actually think that these problems are of recent origin, or that the InterWeb caused them; people can stop mailing me to set me straight on those points.  But I do think that the InterWeb amplifies the problems.  And I want to complain.]

[Added 12/1: Caitlin Light tells me that there's a humor website Something Awful, where "the internet makes you stupid" is a catchphrase: "Something Awful has been mocking itself and the internet since 1999, bringing you reviews of the worst movies, video games, and websites to ever exist. If it's something and it's awful, it's probably on Something Awful, where the internet makes you stupid."]

To take up the immediate problem: if you want to write to a Language Logger, you can go to the list of bloggers (on the right side of the main page, down a bit); click on the blogger's name, and you will be taken to their webpage, where there will be contact information.  Last I looked, this worked for everyone except John McWhorter (who does have a webpage, but it supplies a postal address and not an e-address).

(Many readers have written me to complain that the site is user-unfriendly, because this click-on-the-blogger feature isn't obvious.  Well, we don't WANT it to be instantly obvious; see below.  By the way, some readers have written me to complain that they're annoyed by the slightly coded spam-challenging e-mail address that used to be -- I no longer offer it -- at the end of my postings, because they have to type it out, rather than just clicking on it.  Sigh.)

BUT, much more important,  if you haven't figured this click-on-the-name thing out, you have search engines at your disposal.  Google Is Your Friend, as I keep telling people.  Search on "Mark Liberman", say (in whatever your favorite search engine is) -- I get more mail intended for him than for any other Language Logger -- and you'll quickly get to his webpage and to his contact information.  (And for the ecdb, just search on "eggcorn database", and that should get you a link to the ecdb main page as your top hit.  [Added 12/1: Elizabeth Daingerfield Zwicky points out that if you want to find out if an expression x is on the ecdb, you can just search on "eggcorn x", and that will get you results faster than searching for the site and then searching on the site.])

[Digression: why doesn't everyone just give their e-address on the site?  Because we (well, most of us) want to ALLOW e-mail but not to INVITE it.  If people have to do a few clicks and think a bit about what they want to say, that's a good thing.  There's no reason why we should be instantly available to everyone, all the time.

And if people could mail to all of us at once, that would be a disaster.  We'd be stuck in endless metadiscussions among ourselves about whether this item deserves a posting and who should do it.  We have some of those discussions already, but if we ALL had to look at ALL of the suggestions people send us, the blog would quickly grind to a halt; there are too many of them.  I myself get two to ten such suggestions a day, on top of ten to twenty (some days, a hundred or so) responses to my earlier postings.  There's no way I can give a useful reply to all of these messages and still have a life outside of Language Log.  Hey, I have more than three thousand messages in my inbox as it is, and I have a more-or-less constant queue of 250 postings in preparation, that is, partly written.  Still more I do not need.

I know, you're going to point to Mark Liberman's astonishing productivity on this blog.  Mark's ability to respond rapidly, cogently, and at length just boggles my mind.  I work much more slowly, chewing things over for some time; even short postings often take me six to eight hours to compose, and some of my longer postings have taken twenty to forty hours.  For me, it's much like academic writing, except that I'm writing squibs rather than extended articles, and I'm writing for a general audience rather than a specialist audience.  In any case, there are differences in personal work styles here, so I'm asking you not to judge me by the Liberman Standard.  End of digression.]

On to a related topic.  Some time ago a colleague complained to me, on a Monday, that over the weekend they had wanted to call me at home about a project we were working on but didn't have my telephone number.  (This colleague isn't the only one; I've gotten such complaints a number of times.)  I was astonished.  If this colleague was at Stanford, all the contact information is posted outside my office door.  And my number is in the telephone book.

Ok, maybe this colleague wasn't at Stanford and (like so many people these days) didn't HAVE a phone book.  Well, there's Google again (or just the Stanford Linguistics website), which will get you to my website.  All my contact information is there, available to the world.  Why did it not occur to this colleague to check me out on the InterWeb?

Enough for now.  More, less clear-cut, complaints to come.

Posted by Arnold Zwicky at November 29, 2007 01:35 PM