After reading Tim Dunlop's carefully written, very nuanced, complex but clearly explained piece about books, the internet and changing times at the ABC's The Drum this morning I was astonished, and not in a good way, to read some of the comments.
Those who see themselves as Defenders of the Book (ahem: Tim was not attacking the book, as he went to great lengths to explain in his opening paragraphs) are most likely to fulminate about one or both of two things: either the 'impermanence' of online writing, or the argument that goes 'the internet is full of dross'.
The first makes you wonder whether they have any understanding of the internet at all, or whether they've heard of fire, flood and silverfish, and suggests that they are confusing or conflating permanence with materiality, which in turn suggests that they haven't read Fahrenheit 451 which in turn makes you wonder whether they are as hard-core in their bibliophilia as they would have you believe.
As for the second: well, yes. Of course the internet is full of dross, if by 'dross' you mean the sound of people talking to each other. If you don't want to listen to this sound, the thing to do is develop the skills that will enable you to find, quickly and easily, the particular non-dross that you want. Typing 'Charles Dickens' or 'Virginia Woolf' into the Google box should do it. The 'internet, dross' argument also implies that material published on paper is, by contrast, not full of dross, which in turn suggests that these people have never been in a newsagent's shop or an airport bookshop, or indeed don't read the papers. The paper papers, that is to say.
But never mind the arguments themselves, as they have been and will continue to be amply rehearsed, over and over, everywhere you look. The point is that the people so eager to jump into the comments box to defend something that is not being attacked, and in so doing try to demonstrate what literature-lovers they are themselves, are revealing themselves as bad, careless, sloppy readers.
This seems to be because they're in thrall to the siren song of the false dichotomy. But it's not a matter of either/or. Tim explains very clearly in that article that that's not what he thinks -- so clearly, in fact, that you can see he has anticipated this sort of response and has tried, with only middling success if the comments thread so far is anything to go by, to head it off at the pass.
If I have any serious beef with the internet, it's not that it's 'full of dross' (those who make this argument seem to be complaining that some imagined all-powerful cosmic editor has not fixed all the spelling and typing errors made by teenagers communicating with each other, or by male academics for whom it is a point of pride, typing being a girly skill as everybody knows, that they don't know where the shift key is), but that it has revealed to me a number of things about human nature that I didn't want to know.
One of those things is that when a writer trying to make an argument agonises for hours over micro-details in a piece of writing -- diction, rhythm, sentence structure, clarity of argument and position -- it has in the case of most readers been a total waste of time. Because the other thing is the way that readers like some of those commenting on that post at The Drum respond not by taking in what's been said and responding to it point by point, but by skim-reading and then rushing to mindless tribalism. Which is one of the many enemies of truth.