People have always had an exaggerated respect for facts and, thanks to the internet, these are now easily accessible in far greater quantities than ever before
My late friend Christopher Hitchens once told me that his American friends often expressed surprise at the number of articles and books he was able to produce. He said that there was a simple reason for his high productivity, which was: “I never watch television.”
He was definitely telling the truth about this, since the only television in his apartment in Washington was in the spare bedroom where I was staying and it did not work.
Christopher was right to believe that time spent watching television was time largely wasted, or could be spent more usefully in some other activity. Television supplies less information, and at a slower speed, than newspapers, books or radio.
The internet is more efficient, speedy and weakens state and elite monopolies over news and knowledge. Misused it may be to spread misinformation and propaganda, but the internet remains the most democratic instrument of communication to emerge since the invention of printing.
The strength of the internet is that it supplies infinite quantities of information. But this is also its weakness, because this great torrent of data makes it difficult to distinguish facts that are significant from those that are trivial or meaningless. Emails, for instance, make it easy to communicate information in any quantity, but are less good at promoting discussion and explanation.
The sending and receiving of emails can become as big a waste of time as television ever was. I often have prolonged and inconclusive email exchanges over a period of days or weeks on a matter that could have been dealt with in 10 minutes by a short conversation on the phone.
Once I came near to cancelling a weekend book tour to Barcelona because I could not face another email from the efficient and energetic organisers of the event. When I printed their messages out, they covered 25 pages. Fortunately, everything was put right in the end by a short talk on the phone, which should have taken place weeks earlier.