“Whenever you find yourself on the side of the majority, it is time to pause and reflect.” – Mark Twain
The Internet versus intelligence
The Internet is a black hole, sucking in anyone and everyone with the slightest curiosity about anything – but a lot of the gold at the end of the rainbow is not gold at all. No, it’s not coal, or brass, or poisonous lead, it’s something worse: A pile of YouTube/Hacker News/TechCrunch comments.
YouTube comments in particular are a cesspool of humanity, full of gems like:
- Can I get likes for no reason
- check out my channel!
- Seems legit
- I see what you did there
- You just went full retard. Never go full retard
- Faith in humanity lost
- No fucks where given that day
- Still a better love story than twilight
- Go home you’re drunk
- Do you even lift?
- Getting real tired of your shit
- Dafuq did I just see
- Then suddenly a wild pokemon appears
- Watch out bitches! coming through
- A wild chess game appears!
- Doesn’t matter, had sex
- 10/10 would bang
- That’s enough internet for today
- You had ONE job
- Jokes on you, still masturbated
- You sir won the internetz
- Comment with most likes is a *
- Fuking grammer Nazi
(hat tip Verge forum user Micr0b3)
The Internet has facilitated such sentiment on an unprecedented scale. The opportunity for anyone to spew bottomless rage against Miley Cyrus, cast “doubt” on the president’s birthplace, or derail a conversation by discussing the finer points of home-brew console development…well, I’ll grant that that’s “unprecedented,” a word often applied to the Internet (damn, I did it earlier and didn’t realize it til now!)
Comments sections may be the best case against “openness” online, a vaguely defined term that nevertheless puts on the airs of “anyone can write anything with no consequences while darting between YouTube, Netflix and Reddit on a bandwidth-neutral Net.” Every commenter is an expert, or at the very least a potential conversation hijacker whose hastily gathered yet half coherent sentiments can trigger thousand-word outbursts from her faceless peers.
Popular Science and the damage to knowledge
Online commenters are not simply wailing in a vacuum – they’re frequently causing real damage to the whole of human knowledge from behind their often anonymous guises. The paradox is that the Internet’s promise of anonymity and even impersonality has resulted in the creation of countless communities that are defined almost completely by edgy personality. Evolutionary cues like strength and appearance are worthless when anyone can feign virility from behind a screen name, and as such, anger has become the quintessential online emotion.
It would be sad enough if the Internet were just an enabler for millions of angry, sad persons. It’s worse, though, since comments sections have become news unto themselves, their poisonous din distracting from actual events and trying to erode any achievement by others as individuals try to feel better about their own narrow outlooks. Today, Popular Science (finally!) announced that it was shutting down its comments sections on news stories:
“[B]ecause comments sections tend to be a grotesque reflection of the media culture surrounding them, the cynical work of undermining bedrock scientific doctrine is now being done beneath our own stories, within a website devoted to championing science.”
The issue with comments is probably evolutionary. As if caving to some outdated instinct to follow the tribe lest they be eaten by wild animals, people easily surrender in the face of massive upvotes, agreement, and likes. Unfortunately, the comments section conventional wisdom isn’t good at much else other than estimating the weight of a bull. I mean, did you ever try to assess music albums on the old Rolling Stone forums? Anonymity made it nigh impossible to get anywhere without having to slog through some contrarian bile or irrelevant points-earning sideshow.
Google+ to the rescue?
In a happy coincidence (in many fora, someone would mistakenly call this “ironic” and receive a stupidly stern, pointless lecture from a language bully, which contributes no value to civilization and probably destroys some by making someone feel bad), Google also announced today that it would begin tying YouTube comments to Google+ accounts.
Google+ is more than a social network – more like an identity service. I have mixed feelings toward its increasingly comprehensive tracking of every online twitch or murmur, but its commitment to real names (and who really is going to expend the effort to create many G+ personae?) means that YouTube’s comments sections will finally have accountability, which is what comments have always needed. If G+ can get YouTube under control and also remain a valuable photo backup service, it’ll have contributed more societal value than Facebook ever has/will.
Looking to deck-out Chrome with useful buttons (and make your URL bar smaller)? Here’s a round-up of some of the most popular, easiest-to-use, and productivity-enhancing extensions for Google’s browser:
AdBlock blocks all ads on the Internet (although you can, during setup, opt to give Google’s display ads a pass; individual domains may be greenlighted later, too). It’s technically free (as a pay-what-you-want download), and as such I dont understand why people still complain about things like this.
Pocket’s dead-simple concept (save an entire page, permanently) for viewing later) for consuming content is addictive. Simply click to save anything for later. It beautifully reformats text for reading and even saves videos.
You’ll need an Android phone/tablet with Jelly Bean and the PushBullet app in order to use this. PushBullet speedily pushes links, files, or lists to your Android devices, so that they pop-up in your notification menu or even in the enormously popular DashClock Widget (if you have enabled the PushBullet extension). From there, you can tap them to have instant access to their contents. I was skeptical at first since I could already easily save things to Google Drive or Pocket, but PushBullet is perfect for making sure that you can send things like PDFs or URLs in particular to your phone with minimal hassle and maximum speed.
Self-explanatory: it saves just about anything to Google Drive.
This is useful not only for sharing things to G+, but for seeing how many others have already shared the same page to G+, too. It’s a neat diagnostics tool combined with a social tool.
AddThis can share the current page or selected content with a variety of social networks, including Facebook, LinkedIn, StumbleUpon, and others.
A useful in-browser dictionary, it also lets you double-click words on any page to get a popup definition.
This extension fetches a list of pages similar to your current webpage.
Saves all or some of the images on the current page so that you can edit them in the PicMonkey app for Chrome.
This lets you use different user-agent strings in Chrome. Can be especially useful for the ARM Samsung Chromebook, which some sites interpret as a mobile device.
11. Knew Tab
A great alternative to the default tab. It shows weather, unread Gmail count, RSS feed, Facebook notifications and messages, and time.
12. Missing E
This is a feature-rich extension that gives you some more options for how your Tumblr dashboard appears and operates.
A neat Facebook extension which lets you change the color scheme, block ads, style fonts, and create custom UI elements like a photo pane at the wright and a sticky pad.
This extension lets you run YouTube in night mode (with black background) and adds some extra controls such as volume adjustment via trackpad gestures.
15. Google Translate
Translates the entire current page.
-The ScreenGrab Team
Chrome OS appears to be a hit, thanks to Acer’s workhorse $199 C7 Chromebook and Samsung’s sleek $249 model. Chromebooks are often construed as “companion” devices, meant to supplement a Mac or Windows laptop/desktop, but in my experience they feel more like companions to a tablet/phone. Their modest power, stripped-down OS, and rich ecosystems make them much like a traditional computer influxed with cutting-edge mobile-informed software.
That said, transitioning from a traditional Mac/Windows machine to a Chromebook can be jarring. After all, you can’t install any native apps, and you have to run nearly everything thru the Web browser, all the while being conscious of the machine’s limited power. Here are some tips for getting started:
1. Samsung or bust
The variety of Chromebook models is diversifying, with both Lenovo and HP now getting into the game. The trend is sure to accelerate now that OEMs seem increasingly skeptical of Windows 8.
The $249 Samsung Chromebook is currently the best value on the market. It has a sleek, much-more-expensive-than-it-looks body, and it runs totally silent and cool. Its custom ARM processor is power-efficient and gives you up to seven hours of battery life. It can also support a 3G connection. It escapes the cheap netbook look that plagues the Acer C7 and it’s lighter and better performing that the heavier Samsung 550. While HP’s Pavilion Chromebook is still to be released, its heavy body (replete with Ethernet port) and power-hungry Intel processor don’t inspire confidence.
2. Consider an Ethernet-to-USB dongle
While wifi is more than enough for more uses of the Chromebook – I enjoy playing Pandora One while cooking or exercising, or using it while watching TV -, power users may also want to think about an Ethernet-to-USB dongle for the Samsung Chromebook, which doesn’t have a native Ethernet port. The cabled connection is great for more intensive productivity tasks, such as using Google Drive/Docs or uploading/editing photos, since it gives a nice speed boost to the machine’s modest guts.
3. Customize your dock
While Chrome OS only runs Web apps (with the exception of the browser itself and the file manager), it still offers a comforting desktop metaphor that makes launching apps easy. Filling the dock with icons gives you quick access to full Web apps like Evernote or Tweetdeck, or to your favorite sties, such as the New York Times (optimized for Chrome) or Phandroid.
4. Use the Search key
Chromebooks feature a novel Search key which is a great productivity enhancer. It searches all apps and files on your machine, in addition to a standard Google search.
5. Find equivalents for your Mac/PC apps – they’re out there
I often hear that Chromebooks “can’t do anything” and aren’t serious laptops. This may be true if you’re a hardcore gamer or Wall Street analyst, but otherwise a Chromebook can do almost anything a casual user or student might need to, using apps from the rich Chrome Web Store:
Productivity – Evernote, Google Drive, Write Space, and the excellent Drive-integrated Scratchpad can perform almost any writing or blogging functions
Music – Pandora and Google Play Music both run flawlessly in the browser (and can be stored in the dock), and things should get even better soon once Spotify pushes out its Web app.
Video – Hulu, Internet TV, and YouTube are some of the choice options here.
-The ScreenGrab Team