Computers did us a great service in bringing together up-to-the-minute information in a (somewhat) easy to view format on the web. These articles tend to be lower quality, which is understandable because they need to be written more quickly and their readers have shorter attention spans. The problem is, now that low-quality information is widely available, many people just settle at that. With the rise of sites like CNN.com, print news subscriptions have decreased dramatically (with a few exceptions that prove the rule). More and more people, especially in my generation, get news exclusively from the web.
It’s like high school—when kids realize there are Spark Notes for a book in English class, it means a lot fewer kids read the book. When people don’t have to read the paper to get the news, they can settle for these watered down news sites. But unlike high school, where kids know they’re reading the Spark Notes, more often we’re just lowering the bar for “being informed.” These websites don’t portray themselves as “supplements” or “previews” for the news. They sell themselves as the whole deal, and they come with labels like The New York Times that many people trust.
Another option-related problem is that many people only read articles that confirm their existing political views. Although this was possible before the web, for instance if one exclusively watched NBC news, the degree of choice has been dramatically increased. A newspaper would usually provide several sides of an issue, but online it’s easy to see only conservatively-spun articles or liberal ones. Of the growing number of people who get all of their info from the web, a large portion are just reading watered down Fox News.
It’s not that people today are lazier than their parents a few decades ago (although that may be the case). And it’s not that computers are the source of the problem. It just turns out that people are willing to settle for less when “less” is an option that’s available. Whereas previous media helped saved us from ourselves, the web is an enabler for our bad habits.