Internet age brings new problems

By Clyde Davis: Local Columnist

I have to admit my 80-year-old dad, who is a retired engineer, is more computer savvy than I am. He, of course, remembers the days when computers were machines that took up an entire room, and had to be “talked to” in special languages.

It was my dad, in fact, who explained the following aspect to me, giving it a name I cannot remember. I first became aware of it several years ago, then was reminded of it a few months ago and again last week. I bring it up because there are several learning points in it, for me as a writer and for all of us as readers.

When something goes online, like in a blog or the CNJ online, people will pick it up because they have asked to be alerted to information about certain key words. When one of those key words is published online, their computer will display the source.

My first experience with this came three years ago when I wrote a column on Halloween and mentioned, as a sidelight, the nature-based religion Wicca was not Satan worship, but a form of nature veneration. Though this was not the point of my column, I got positive e-mail for a week from Wiccans who appreciated that clarification. It took me time to realize not all of these respondents were in the CNJ delivery zone.

I came to my second assumption that all of those people were receiving the CNJ online. Then came what I like to call the Keith Urban foot-in-mouth incident.

A column I wrote last fall focused on a country singer of immense talent, not well known, by the name of Joanie Harms. Purely as a sidelight, I contrasted her to people such as Keith Urban, whom I characterized admittedly subjectively as a Nashville, Tenn., packaged product. The responses ranged from polite and thoughtful disagreement to misspelled diatribes against Aaron Tippin, a personal favorite with whom I had contrasted Urban. The common ground was all of these people had obviously keyed in on their favorite—Urban. None of the responses dealt with my main point — the talent of Joanie Harms.
That was when my dad laughed at me, explaining how you can set your computer to

pick out key words. It happened again last week, when I used “Naruto” as an illustration of a cartoon not suitable for little kids. The responses, I imagine from middle-schoolers and teens, ranged again from misunderstanding what I said to appreciating my seeing the positive side of this cartoon for older kids. The common ground was that all had responded to this apparent key word.

As a writer I am reminded my potential readership is more diverse, and acts with more diverse goals, than I had imagined. Some people are only interested in the key word subject they scan the Internet for. It also reminds me that today’s communicator must be crystal clear on what his or her point is, written or spoken. People hear certain things and react to them, irrespective of the larger focus.

As a reader, I am reminded to pay attention to the entire picture. Each of us is guilty of that same mistake, focusing in on “buzz words” to the exclusion of the main point. As information overload continues and expands, it will be interesting to see how our abilities and ways of coping continue to shift.