by Brad Nelson 12/29/13
There’s going to be a fair amount of contradiction in this blog post. I’m going to ask you to jump around the web, which is the very thing cautioned against by the subject matter.
This article then lead to another article by Flynn on the same subject, Dead from the Internet.
Last but not least, this then led me to the article by Nicholas Carr, Is Google Making Us Stupid? (which you can then follow to a book-length handling of the subject matter in The Shallows by the same author).
I’d prefer you first follow and read those three articles above so as to gain some depth in the subject matter. But, such is perhaps the nature of our brains these days, I suppose I should sum it up in a Google-like factoid:
The medium of our information (oral storytelling vs. the written page, handwriting vs. using a typewriter, reading a book vs. bouncing around the internet) effects how our brains work and how we perceive reality. It is the belief of Nicholas Carr (backed up by scientific data in his full-length book on the subject) that the very way in which we think about things is quite plastic. Our minds are formed by the medium (in this case for the worse…the hop-around, skimming, headline-oriented, soundbyte-superficial internet).
It is his assertion that our internet culture has learned to be like a pancake: wide, but not very deep. An effect of this, according to Carr, is that many people couldn’t sit down and read a full book even if they wanted to. Our minds have been conditioned to skipping around headlines, pulling a fact or quote from here or there, fragmentary link-following, and using this as a unknown substitute for knowledge and wisdom. (By the way, I agree, I agree, ditto, I agree.) We thus learn a bunch of superficial facts but we haven’t the sufficiently deep background in order to be particularly wise about any given subject (despite whatever our conceits to knowledge might be).
He cites a few instances of young people who have actually forsworn books as a legitimate process in the gathering of information…such are people now conditioned by internet-skimming. He also cites many old-school book readers who say that they have begun to find it difficult to sit down and read an entire book. I also see the same thing happening in myself. I still read books, but my impatience level has certainly risen and I have many books left one-quarter read, if that. I’m often thinking “Get on with it!” And, in fact, many books these days are padded and they indeed are not particularly deep (it’s sort of a chicken or the egg thing). The author even makes note of how some books are little more than articles (and the reverse can happen as well).
Well, color me impressed by this line of inquiry. To me, it explains a lot. A culture that gains its “facts” ping-ponging between television, the mainstream media, and the internet is not going to think the same as a culture with a classical and deep education, particularly one based upon volumes of great books. And this isn’t just a difference in what one holds as facts, although that plays a key part as well. It’s that people become hampered and are unable to reason or to see any kind of big picture if they are of the superficial internet mindset.
This would seem to be an unexpected outcome. After all, the internet opens a person up to the entire world. But the premise of Carr does not dispute this. He simply says that gathering a few stones on the surface of a large pond is not the same as diving deep into any one pond (or many ponds).
I couldn’t agree more. And I think more and more that this “Progressive” (even libertarian) set will not be able to address our societal problems. And it will not be just because many of them are evil Marxists/Leftists or have a revisionist set of facts. It will be because they are simply distanced from the kind of wisdom that it takes to understand the problems in the first place. It will be, as it is in many places now, the superficial blind leading the superficial blind.
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