23 May 2010

Gardening and the internet

This is really only tangentially related to plants and gardening, but I've been thinking lately about the internet.
My thinking was started by a series are articles in Slate by a man who has decided to give up the internet for 4 months. The articles are full of references to the internet as an addiction, and a time waster. His latest is titled, If You Grow Up on the Internet, Are You Better Equipped To Use It Responsibly? About how young people feel about the internet.

Which got me thinking. I grew up with computers, but the internet didn't really come into my life until my late teens. And do I regret it? Not even a tiny little bit. I just wish I had had it sooner. I discovered (or, rather, rediscovered) gardening in my mid-teens. I didn't know a single gardener, with the exception of my uncle who lived 7 hours away and I saw maybe annually. I got stacks of books out of the library, and started learning to garden by trial and error. Mostly error.

Then, the internet came along -- at the library, at school, and I had access to information. To people. I traded plants and information with people on garden web. Most importantly, I discovered the incredible community of people that is The Rose Hybridizers Association, where I learned most of what I know about my deepest gardening passion, plant breeding. Let me emphasize that: In roughly another year I will have a PhD in Plant Breeding and Genetics. I have certainly learned a lot about the topic here in graduate school. The fundamentals, though, the real foundation of what breeding is and (perhaps most importantly) why I LOVE it, I learned from the amazing people on-line.

And there is so much more... I have a small collection of great garden reference books, but I have at my finger tips the ultimate reference of all, Google. I can, in moments, learn of an incredible new species of plant, get professional and amateur reviews of it, find a source to buy it from, find out how many chromosomes it has, and virtually anything else anyone knows about it.

I would certainly be a gardener without the internet (I don't think anything could keep me from being a gardener) but I wouldn't be nearly as good at it. Certainly I loose a little time watching cute kitten videos on you tube, but that is more than made up by the fact that I can learn in minutes what would have taken me hours to find in the library.

Long live the internet!


mr_subjunctive said...

I completely agree, though I can see one way in which it might be useful to go off the internet for a while -- not four months, but maybe a day or two. Since there's so much internet, and it's always there, it's very easy to use it to procrastinate, when there's something I don't want to be doing. This is especially a problem if the thing I should be doing involves writing a blog post, because most of the stuff I have to read in order to write the post is itself on the internet.

What bugs me about the moralizing articles like the one you linked to, about how the internet is a time-waster and addiction and whatever, and it's so isolating and lonely, and blah blah blah, is the implication that these things didn't happen before the internet. People were full of joy, integral parts of their communities, had deep, meaningful relationships, and got things done all the time . . . and then the internet came along. DUN DUN DUNNNNNNNNN!

I do kind of remember life before the internet, and the moralizing scolds were all wound up about video games, and music video, and how much time everybody spent watching television. Before that, I assume people were wagging fingers at one another about how much time they spent reading, instead of being outside getting exercise, or how much time they spent talking on the phone, or how much time they spent driving around aimlessly, or how much time they spent exercising when they should have been home studying, or etc. Some people just really need to hector others on how they're spending their time, and other people get their jollies by publicly announcing that they're going to do without one technological advancement or another -- remember when all the smug people were smug about how they didn't even own a TV? -- and none of it means a damn thing or deserves to be taken seriously, as far as I can tell.

Yes, some people will become addicted to the internet. But big deal. Some people get addicted to yoga. Or getting into fights. Or watching football on TV. Or crochet. Until there's some kind of evidence that the internet is more harmful to people than the stuff they get up to when they're left to their own devices, I'm going to just roll my eyes.

Besides, the internet, and the social networks therein, can also be an enormous force for good.

Rebsie Fairholm said...

Interesting post, and I agree with Mr Subjunctive's comment too. I'm old enough to have grown up without the internet (or even much in the way of computers - the Sinclair ZX80 was the technological highlight of my childhood) and I don't regret the deprived times because it got me into some good habits with reading books and discovering things for myself. But still - the internet is one of the most spectacular innovations in the history of human civilisation. In terms of its ability to spread information and ideas it's on a par with the invention of the printing press. Like all great innovations, it can be used for good and bad purposes, and everything in between.

Those who have a problem with the internet - who get lazy, obsessed or distracted - well, it says far more about them than it does about the internet. It's a great gift, and we all have a choice about whether we use it responsibly or not. Those who whinge about other people's use of it are probably in need of something more meaningful in their own lives. 30 years ago it was television. In earlier centuries it was probably people spending too much time gazing into the fire.

For my part, I have a shelf full of wonderful gardening books right behind my desk ... but when I want to look something up, it's usually quicker to go for Google than to turn round and take a book off the shelf ...