The magic of the Internet — the recession of the material world in favor of a world of ideas — is not working for everyone. In essence, we are missing something very worthwhile and identity-forming from our predigital lives. Is it a handwritten letter? Is it an analog phone call? Is it a quality of celluloid film, a multivolume encyclopedia or a leatherbound datebook? Is it a way of thinking or being or even falling in love?
During the process of converting analog audio to digital, something is lost. MP3 compression, in particular, squeezes out certain sounds believed to be superfluous to the ear. That transformation is called “lossy compression.” Something we can’t quite put our finger on is lost. Comparable lossiness informs digital film, digital images, digital social life.
— Virginia Heffernan, “Magic and Loss,” NYT 2.18.11
For the record, I’m neither a Web cheerleader nor a Luddite. I make my living telling stories on the Web. I haven’t had a print byline in about a year. But I’d argue the Web is neither a wholly good or wholly bad thing for homo sapiens. It is change, drastic change, and where there is change there is inevitably loss. We have lost something of ourselves in the upload, just as we did when the U.S. moved from agriculture to industry, from the farm to the city to the suburb and so on.
But that picture up top? That’s me talking face-to-face with my girlfriend when she spent three months in London. We wrote letters and mailed them across the ocean. But she also gave me a tour of her apartment — and introduced me to her roommates — all because of the magic of the World Wide Web.