10 topics the Web has tarnished and 5 that remain untouched

For some people, the Internet is the killer app — literally. From newspapers and the yellow pages to personal privacy and personal contact, the Net has been accused of murdering, eviscerating, ruining, and obliterating more things than the Amazing Hulk.

Some claims are more true than others, but the Net certainly has claimed its share of scalps.

Here are 10 things the Net is making virtually extinct, plus five that have flourished.

1. Trust in encyclopedias
When I was a kid, if something was in the Encyclopedia Britannica (or even Grolier’s), it was true. Now — thanks to Wikipedia — having “encyclopedic knowledge” of a topic isn’t as impressive when there’s a good chance most of what you think you know was concocted by a 12-year-old. After a 2005 study by the British journal Nature showed Britannica and Wikipedia to be equally inaccurate , faith in all encyclopedias plummeted. Britannica attacked that study’s methodology as “fatally flawed,” but it was too late.

Also dead: trust in studies of encyclopedias.

2. Barroom arguments
It used to be you could kill many hours and even more brain cells drinking beer and arguing over arcane trivia. Who was a more fearsome slugger, Babe Ruth or Hank Aaron? Who’d win a one-on-one match between Kobe Bryant and Doctor J? (Sorry Kobe — we love ya man, but in 1972 the Doc was unstoppable.) Now whenever there’s a question of fact, somebody just whips out a smartphone and does a search on Google or dials up Wolfram Alpha and runs a statistical analysis. Where’s the fun in that?

3. Your old flame
No matter the state of your current relationship, it used to be possible to escape for a few minutes by pining for the one(s) that got away. In your mind, they’re just as hot as they were decades ago when they were captain of the football team or homecoming queen. But now they’re on Facebook. Guess what? Assuming their pictures are current, they’re just as old and fat as you are.

The good news? You might not care. There’s a reason Facebook was named as a contributing cause in 20 percent of divorces [6] last year. And be careful whom you poke; British researchers noted a rise in sexually transmitted diseases due in part, they said, to people hooking up on social networks.

4. Civil discourse
The niceties of polite disagreement are mostly dead, thanks to the Internet. Rudeness and name-calling have devolved into forms of entertainment; entire sites are devoted just to cataloging flame wars [8]. Artist Mike Reed has caricatured the various breeds of online forum jerks [9] for this very Website. And though you may find some some discussion boards and community sites that still encourage good manners and penalize offenders, they are becoming increasingly rare.

Disagree? See me in the Comments (below) and we’ll fight about it, ***clown.

5. Listening to albums
Remember putting “Dark Side of the Moon” on the turntable or slipping “Graceland” into your CD tray? Your kids won’t. Not only will the concept of music delivered via molecules — hard media — seem totally 20th century, but the entire concept of an album (let alone a “concept album”) will be lost on them. Over the past decade, sales of complete albums — even the nonmolecular versions — declined 55 percent to less than 400 million in 2009, according to Nielsen SoundScan. During roughly the same period, sales of individual digital tracks have soared from zero to nearly 1.2 billion.

Apple iTunes and file-sharing networks have nearly obliterated the notion of listening to more than one song by one artist in a row. “Gee Dad, what did you do before Apple invented ‘shuffle’? God, you’re so old.”

6. Expertise

Before the Web, if you wanted to call yourself an expert, you usually needed expertise in some field. Now all you need is a blog and sufficient quantities of chutzpah.

For example, in a recent survey by PR Week, 52 percent of bloggers call themselves “journalists.” Because calling yourself a “typist” isn’t nearly as impressive.

7. Nigeria’s reputation
Once upon a time Nigeria was a sovereign African nation whose primary export was oil. Now its primary export appears to be bogus email messages seeking people to help ex-government ministers steal millions of dollars. The country’s name has become synonymous with advanced-fee fraud email missives, better known as “419 scams,” [13] after the section of Nigerian law that they violate.

We have a way to fix the country’s reputation, which we’d be happy to share — just as soon as someone there deposits $35 million into a numbered Swiss bank account.

8. Gud spellng
You can blame the rise in texting (and sexting as much as Twitter for the death of the King’s English, though “relaxed” standards for bloggers have also played a role. Will the last copy editor left standing please turn off the lites — er, lights?

9. Celebrity
In the old days you usually had to be good-looking or talented to become famous. Now, thanks to reality TV, viral video, and social media, the fatter and more demented you are, the better your chances of becoming a household name. For example: Your last 17 movies may have totally sucked (Kevin Smith, we’re talking to you), but if you’ve got over 1.6 million followers on Twitter , who gives a damn? In fact, the plus-sized director’s tweet battle with Southwest Airlines over getting booted from a flight for being too fat was easily better than Smith’s movie Cop Out. [18]

10. Sex
It used to be mysterious and alluring. To watch two other strangers doing it, you had to either visit a XXX theater or become a Peeping Tom. Now porn is everywhere, and a new ‘celebrity’ sex video pops up online every few weeks. (Thankfully, none so far have starred Kevin Smith.) Anyone who’s seen more than five minutes of “1 Night in Paris” is more familiar with Ms. Hilton’s anatomy than her ob-gyn. Yes, sex is more plentiful than ever thanks to the Internet. You know what it isn’t any more? Sexy.

Five things the Net hasn’t killed or ruined

1. Irrational exuberance
You’d think the dot-com implosion would have taught people something. You’d be wrong. Irrational faith in the triumph of new technology just shifted to social media sites and, lately, the Apple iPad. “Life-changing” ? We don’t think so.

2. Faith in ‘the wisdom of crowds’
Though we’re not sure why not. Anyone who’s ever used the sites Digg, Reddit , or even Google knows the most popular things on the Net are rarely the best. It turns out crowds are no smarter than individuals. They’re just louder.

3. Brick-and-mortar stores
Offline retailers are still with us, despite the best efforts of Amazon, Buy.com, and the like. One thing that seems to have thankfully passed on, however: the phrase “click and mortar.” It shall not be missed.

4. Deceit
The Internet has allowed people to reinvent themselves in ways they could never pull off in the flesh. You might be a middle-aged dude who hasn’t seen his toes in 10 years, but your Second Life avatar is 24 and smoking hot; also, she has blue skin and a tail.

5. Chuck Norris
Only Chuck Norris is powerful enough to kill Chuck Norris , and even then he’d automatically replicate

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Jim Love, Chief Content Officer, IT World Canada

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