by Pete Mazzaccaro

Fans and followers of technology can’t really go a week without someone rhapsodizing about how the spread of information online is enlightening everyone. Not since the printing press has any single technology made the world’s knowledge more available, thus leveling the playing fields. No matter where you are or what you do, the theory goes, everyone with access to the Web has access to all human knowledge.

Hand in hand with the gospel of Google, however,  is the rising tide of fear and loathing that the very same Web that has weaved this great informational revolution is simultaneously eroding our rights to privacy. As we surf through the great treasure troves of learning, the big, data hungry tech companies like Google, Amazon and Facebook compile electronic dossiers that can, the most fearful among us believe, be turned over to the Feds at a moment’s notice.

But is the Internet really so all-knowing?

On Monday, as I began to contemplate the topic for this very piece, a breaking wave of disbelief was forming over an apparent case of mass ignorance regarding the Titanic.

The ship disaster, popularized (I think it’s fair to say) by James Cameron in the 1997 film starring Leonardo DiCaprio, is marking its 100th anniversary. The resulting press and a documentary by Cameron evidently set off a flood of shock and disbelief by young people who had no idea the movie was based on a real event.

The surprised Twitter users began tweeting their disbelief for the whole world to read. A typical sentiment was: “Wow. I thought Titanic was just a movie. Mind blown.”

The skeptic in me assumes that a good number of the tweets were a gag. But I’ve also been around long enough to know that whenever you really don’t believe how ignorant people can be, you’re likely going to be wrong.

Here the relevant info on something as historically significant as the  Titanic is literally a simple Wikipedia search away, yet so many were still taken by complete surprise that something only 100 years in the past was real.

What does this all prove? Maybe not a whole lot, other than that the truth of the matter is never really as big as people assume.

We can put technology on a pedestal and credit its rise with everything from easier research to the Arab Spring revolutions of a year ago.

Or we can fret about its meddlesome disruption of so many things we’ve held dear for so long, like the  record store, cable television and newspapers.

But in the end, it’s really just another tool. And no matter what the tool is, be it t_he printing press or the World Wide Web, the people using the tools are still going to be, well, people.

Technology has certainly changed a lot about the way we get and trade information. As much as many might disagree, I don’t think it has made us less intelligent. But I think it’s also safe to say in the face of bright and shining evidence that it hasn’t made us any smarter either.

 

  • Tracy

    As an aside, I think movies are making historical understanding worse. Will Murdoch in the Titanic movie was portrayed as a villain, a guy out there with an ahead of his time “We are the 1%” tee shirt putting only first class passengers in life boats. He was – in truth – on the helm and saved many lives, he was last seen in the water not taking a place on a life boat himself still trying to get people to safety. He was a dedicated hero through the whole calamity and a very good man his whole life. He has been a hero in his town in Scotland for decades, Cameron made him some dishonorable monster for no reason, he did apologize to the town and gave the town a memorial but the damage is done.

    Moneyball is a great new release but it portrayed the manager Art Howe as being a jerk, disgruntled with his contract and fighting the direction of the ball club. He was on board, he was with the plan and analysis. Seymor Hoffman played the character that way because it gave an inter-company strife that was not there. The audience is left to think wrongly — Howe was a jerk.

    The latest movie about the Red Barron – with the fame as an elite of all the world’s warriors no less – had him portrayed as a pacifist, unhappy for war and adverse to glory. “Spartan,” the movie, was a group of guys in bathing suits fighting animation mainly. “Pearl Harbor” was some strange love story. Redford’s “The Conspirator” made the movie about the controversial (not at the time really) military trials, kinda of a Gitmo theme and had Mary Surratt as at most, involved in knowing about the kidnapping of Lincoln but not in anything remotely more sinister. And they do this whole movie about the civil war and made no mention of slavery. They made no allusion to Surratt herself being a former slave owner committed to that institution. That was her driving motivation against the north and she was unapologetic about it in life – in the movie she is instead a mother of the year candidate being wrongly tried in a battle for civil rights of due process…

    I think the problem is not the web for advancing an understanding of history well or badly. If you read the often-and-a-bit-factual-sometimes Wikipedia you will learn more correct history than today’s movies. Patton, Midway, Gettysburg, Gandhi, – many movies over the past years do history a great service, as many do not but getting the history right in films is secondary, I don’t think it is fair to paint the Internet with the same brush. The Internet does not try and advance imaginary villains at the expense of history, movies do that, on purpose sometimes…