The Internet has been rife with discussion lately about whether the nature of information exchange on the Internet is hurting the way the human mind works
The Internet has been rife with discussion lately about whether the nature of information exchange on the Internet is hurting the way the human mind works. In a post on the GCN Tech Blog (GCN.com/1122), Joab Jackson wrote that a lot of the recent discussion was spurred by Nicholas Carr's essay in the Atlantic Monthly, 'Is Google Making Us Stupid?' Carr wrote that extensive use of the Internet has changed the way he reads and even thinks. A literary man, he now finds it hard to sink into a good book because he can't concentrate for more than a few pages. Friends of his in the literary world have confessed the same thing.
Internet living has been identified as the culprit. Clicking from site to site, skimming blogs and instant-messaging shorthand are shrinking attention spans and undermining serious thought, critics say. They said the same thing about TV 50 years ago. And they were right then, too.
However, people also use the Internet to delve deeply into some subjects. In a recent example, the Pew Internet and American Life Project reported last week that nearly 30 percent of adults, fed up with TV sound bites of political coverage, use the Internet to get a more detailed picture from unedited debate footage, speech transcripts and full copies of position papers. Transcripts and position papers? Now we're talking attention spans.
The Internet undoubtedly has changed the way many of us acquire and disseminate information, but perhaps it's nothing more than another change. Carr points out that Socrates complained in Plato's 'Phaedrus' that writing things down rather than carrying them in your head would hurt the cognitive process. More than 1,800 years later, others claimed that the printing press would make people intellectually lazy by making books so widely available. They were right, too. What they didn't see were the benefits that would come with the change.
Kevin McCaney is the executive editor of GCN. Follow him on Twitter: @KevinMcCaney.