A fascinating discussion has broken out in the comments to my earlier post, A beautiful mindlessness. I recommend reading it, and adding to it, if you’re interested in the effect of the web on cognition and intelligence.
Elsewhere, there are some related posts of note. The Leading Wedge writes of:
[a] situation I have been aware of for several years now. I keep telling myself that it is time to sit down and to start coming up with my own judgements and thoughts, but I keep putting it off because I learn something new by reading the constant flows of others’ opinions and the “news” on the Internet.
Yes, distraction does seem to be the currency of the web, and it’s intoxicating.
Tim Bray, after dutifully dismissing the critics of the internet’s “atomized information,” gets around to being a critic himself:
It doesn’t bother me that much of the prose I read these days has an age measured in hours, or is evanescent electronic text, or is produced by principals rather than intermediaries. But here’s what I’m coming to think: in text, short form tends to drive out long form. Our novelty-seeking chimpanzee minds would rather chew through a bunch of tasty little morsels than a full balanced meal.
I find references to “chimpanzee minds” and “mammalian brains” and the like to be offensive, lazy and stupid, but I think Bray makes a very good point. The more we suck in information from the blogosphere or the web in general, the more we tune our minds to brief bursts of input. It becomes harder to muster the concentration required to read books or lengthy articles – or to follow the flow of dense or complex arguments in general. Haven’t you, dear blog reader, noticed that, too?
Loryn at growstate writes:
Technology may change our intellectual environment, but doesn’t govern our behavior. We choose how we adapt. We choose our objectives and data sources and whether we challenge our assumptions. We choose on what to focus. We can choose.
I would agree that technology doesn’t take away our individual free will, but I would strongly disagree that technology doesn’t heavily influence, and in many cases even govern, our collective behavior. Of course it does. And in providing the context in which we “choose our objectives and data sources and whether we challenge our assumptions,” it can, and I think does, influence how we think. Adaptation does not always involve conscious choice.
Finally, Bill de Hora, after praising my “calculated cynical faux-Ludditism,” says, “Watching Carr criticize, undermine and attempt to devalue IT technology, particulary web technology, while doing so using web technology is so wonderfully ironically dissonant.” What can I say? I cheerfully confess to being part of the problem.