The internet nation

By Terence P. Jeffrey

The baby boom generation – born in the years from 1946 through 1964 – grew up without cellphones or personal computers.

Whatever they read in their childhood years was almost always printed on some kind of paper – whether it was a newspaper, a magazine, a novel or a textbook.

When they watched television, they could only choose between a small group of stations – depending on how the reception was in their neighborhood and how the antenna worked at their home.

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The world is not like that anymore and never will be again.

America is now an internet nation.

The Census Bureau published a report this month on computer and internet use in the United States in 2021. It showed that very few Americans – particularly in the younger generations – lack access in their households to communications made via the internet.

Across the United States in 2021, according to the Census Bureau, 95% of all households had some type of computer (a desktop, a laptop, a smartphone or a tablet) and 90.1% had a broadband internet subscription.

Among households where the householder was between 15 and 34 years of age, 94.6% had a broadband internet subscription. Among households where the householder was between 35 and 44 years of age, 95.4% had a broadband internet subscription; and among households where the householder was 45 to 64 years of age, 92.2% had a broadband internet subscription.

It was only among households where the householder was 65 or older that broadband internet subscriptions fell below 90%. In those households, headed by baby boomers and members of the Silent Generation (who were born from 1928 through 1945), the percentage with a broadband internet subscription was still 80.7%.

Large majorities of American households at every income level had a broadband internet subscription in 2021, according to the Census Bureau. In households where the annual income was $150,000 or more, 97.8% had a broadband internet subscription. Among households with incomes of $100,000 to $149,000, it was 96.6%; among households with incomes of $50,000 to $99,000, it was 93.6%; and among households with incomes of $25,000 to $49,999, it was 86.8%.

Even among the poorest American households – where the annual income was less than $25,000 – 74.9% had a broadband internet subscription.

What about the homes where they were raising children?

“Households with children under 18 years were more likely to have any type of computer (99 percent) and a broadband subscription (96 percent) than households without children,” said the Census Bureau report.

The question then becomes: Is this a good thing or a bad thing for American children and our nation’s future?

It has the potential to be either.

The internet itself is merely an instrument that – like any other instrument – can be used to do good things or bad things.

A high school student these days can get on their laptop and pull up a copy of Shakespeare’s Henry V and read it from beginning to end. When they are done reading it online, they can pull up the 1944 film version of the play – and watch Laurence Olivier play the king.

Or high school students can spend their time reading and watching mindless – or malevolent – postings on the same internet using the same device. They can poison their minds – and their souls – by what they see and what they read.

When I was in college, I had the good fortune to study the writings of the great Irish poet William Butler Yeats. When I first started looking into his writings, as I recall, I had to walk over to the university library and find a book of his poems that I could borrow and read.

Now, you can read these poems on the internet.

There is one poem Yeats wrote more than a century ago that delivers as powerful a message today as it did when it was first published. It warns readers to be wary of demagoguery and falsehoods – and to search hard for the truth.

It is called: “The Leaders of the Crowd”:

They must to keep their certainty accuse
All that are different of base intent;
Pull down established honor; hawk for news
Whatever their loose fantasy invent
And murmur it with bated breath, as though
The abounding gutter had been Helicon
Or calumny a song

Yeats continued:

How can they know
Truth flourishes where the student’s lamp has shone
And there alone, that have no solitude?

“So the crowd come they care not what may come,” he concluded. “They have loud music, hope every day renewed/And heartier loves; that lamp is from the tomb.”

Hopefully, young Americans who now live in a nation where internet access is practically universal will use it like a student’s lamp to find those places where truth flourishes.

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