Saturday, 24 May 2008

Web users getting more selfish

Yep, that's right, we're all slowly but surely turning into ginormous electronic bastards. Every single one of us. We'd sooner have our online avatars kick those belonging to everyone else roughly and forcefully about the head than share any of our virtual Second Life candy. In fact, within mere years the internet will have begun - if it hasn't started already - to die a slow agonising festering death, as we all wallow around, ignorantly, in our own hatred fuelled isolation. Just like in the real world*.

Well, you know, maybe.

At least, that was what I assumed when I first saw this headline (the post title above) over at BBC News. Perhaps, just a little alarmistly**, I grant you...

But anyway, at the very least, I expected that participation in Wikipedia might have declined, or something more or less of that order. You know, file-hoarding taking over from file-sharing; more people on help forums posting, "Nyah-nyah! We're not telling you!"; YouTube announcing that it's to become MyTube. You know, something like that. Something, in other words, that might actually warrant the adjective "selfish."

But no. What has actually happened is, that we've all become just a little bit better at 'finding stuff'; a heinous act for which, according to Jakob Nielsen (the website usability bod quoted in the story), we should all be considered not just selfish but - for good measure - "ruthless" too.

Our crime?

Fewer of us now shilly-shally around on pages that we don't need to read; Google simply takes us to the page that contains the information we asked it for, and then we leave. Wow. I, for one, am thoroughly ashamed of myself - bad me, and bad Google.

Obviously, all Nielsen's really trying to say, as indeed he's been saying for ages, is that web users aren't impressed by pointless bells and whistles (we only like the pointy kind); and the word "selfish" was probably just taken out of context by the BBC reporter, for the sake of a more sensational, if - even in the actual story itself - utterly unsupported headline.

But whatever context Nielsen uttered the word in, I still fail to see how exactly searching for something, reading it, then failing to hang around to do something other than what you actually went there to do in the first place constitutes being selfish?

I mean, by that logic, and assuming that I don't want to be considered selfish, the next time I pick up the dictionary I should read every word in the whole thunking great tome, just because someone's gone to the bother of putting them there. And furthermore, the next time you feel like doing something altruistic, maybe, don't do something sensible, like taking stuff to a charity shop, why not read some online adverts, or something?

I exaggerate, of course, but a) that's more fun, and b) you get the point: the World Wide Web holds countless quick and easy ways to sully your morals, but simply using it competently isn't one of them. And if you disagree: perhaps you're right, but the next time you type something into Google be sure to have fun following that endless chain of hyperlinks. Chances are, you'll not be doing very much else, for quite some time...

*if the Daily Mail's to be believed.
**possibly not a real word.

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