So Nicholas Carr’s article-turned-book has got people splashing more electrons around (as the mainstream media loves being the story, so tinterwebbers love talking about the tinterwebs. It’s a navel-gazing thing).
In today’s Absurder, John Naughton gives an overview of who is saying what, and then hands over to various e-commentariat types.
Sarah Churchwell (I think she is the American one on Newsnight) pitches in with this –
In 10 years, I’ve seen students’ thinking habits change dramatically: if information is not immediately available via a Google search, students are often stymied. But of course what a Google search provides is not the best, wisest or most accurate answer, but the most popular one.
I think that’s precisely true, and the reason I am chuffed to have grown up (well, older anyhow) before the Internet kicked in. Back in my day you had to graft for your research (and it was 5 miles walk to school, uphill, both ways), and to write stuff out in long-hand etc.
Ed Bullmore, a psychiatrist, pitches in with
One possibility is that the brain and the internet have evolved to satisfy the same general fitness criteria. They may both have been selected for high efficiency of information transfer, economical wiring cost, rapid adaptivity or evolvability of function and robustness to physical damage.Networks that grow or evolve to satisfy some or all of these conditions tend to end up looking the same.
Hmm, maybe, but I don’t quite buy some of the evolutionary neurobiology/neural Darwinism stuff of people like Edelman. Probably because I am simply not smart enough to know what Edelman is quite saying…
Anyhow, novelist Geoff Dyer admits to being distractable, which is a misery shared I guess.
Maryanne Wolf, author of “Proust and the Squid: the Story and Science of the Reading Brain” has lots of interesting things to say for herself, including this –
For me, the essential question has become: how well will we preserve the critical capacities of the present expert reading brain as we move to the digital reading brain of the next generation? Will the youngest members of our species develop their capacities for the deepest forms of thought while reading or will they become a culture of very different readers – with some children so inured to a surfeit of information that they have neither the time nor the motivation to go beyond superficial decoding? In our rapid transition into a digital culture, we need to figure out how to provide a full repertoire of cognitive skills that can be used across every medium by our children and, indeed, by ourselves.
It is left to the “writer and critic” Bidisha to really nail it. She talks about the useful work she does first off in the morning…
After all this good stuff, there’s what I call the comet trail: the subsequent hours-long, bitty, unsatisfying sessions of utter timewasting. I find myself looking up absolute nonsense only tangentially related to my work, fuelled by obsessions and whims and characterised by topic-hopping, bad spelling, squinting, forum lurking and comically wide-ranging search terms. I end having created nothing myself, feeling isolated, twitchy and unable to sleep, with a headache and painful eyes, not having left the house once.
Ah, I recognise that. What she calls the comet trail, I call the google binge (well, google binge also covers the semi-disciplined seeking out of info from a list I make of ten or twenty leads to chase up/historical facts/concepts, but it ALWAYS leads down various rabbit warrens. That’s the nature of hypertext, as per Vannevar Bush)
And, well, she should have the last word-
The internet enables you look up anything you want and get it slightly wrong. It’s like a never-ending, trashy magazine sucking all time, space and logic into its bottomless maw. And, like all trashy magazines, it has its own tone, slang and lexicon. I was tempted to construct this piece in textspeak, Tweet abbreviations or increasingly abusive one-liners to demonstrate the level of wit the internet has facilitated – one that is frighteningly easily to mimic and perpetuate. What we need to counteract the slipshod syntax, off-putting abusiveness, unruly topic-roaming and frenetic, unreal “social networking” is good, old-fashioned discipline. We are the species with the genius to create something as wondrous as the internet in the first place. Surely we have enough self-control to stay away from Facebook.