Contributor Post Created with Sketch. Is The Internet Making Our Brains Shallow?

 

Yes, says Nick Carr, in a forthcoming book. Russell Arben Fox has deep thoughts:

we become habituated to viewing all information — literature, science, journalism, scholarship, whatever — as something to be “strip-mined [for] relevant content” (p. 164), and rather than thereby supposedly refining our ability to recognize (in classic marketplace of ideas fashion) good information from bad, in fact our capacity to make learned judgments is physically undermined.

From time to time, I too want to throw the book at the internet (so to speak). Yet “strip-mining content” reminds me of nothing so much as the strategy of “gutting books” — a venerable act of analog violence — that a graduate student must adopt in order to finish in less than 10 years. Of course, a whole country of people who think and read like graduate students would be a dystopia unlike any other. But when it comes to the uses and abuses of crafted knowledge, some things never change.

Hat tip: the one and only Alan Jacobs.

There are 10 comments.

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  1. Rob Long Founder

    There is something strange about zipping through my RSS reader, which I do every couple of days, and realizing that everything — everything! — in it has been stripped and reduced to a line or two of (sometimes) tantalizing text, but without the dress-up clothes and class-signifiers that information usually comes with — a book jacket (which means: “Big Publisher approved content inside”) or a masthead (“Big Time Editors of the New York Times say this is important and valuable”) or even a quasi-famous name attached. It’s all just…text. Which is wonderful and democratizing in a lot of ways, but is also just impossible to sort through.

    • #1
    • May 23, 2010, at 9:41 AM PDT
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  2. Rob Long Founder

    And another thing: We’ve ended up where we are now, with a chaotic, swirling ocean of information — and what’s the big buzz word in Silicon Valley now? “Discovery,” meaning, how do you sift through what you’ve got, read what you already know you want to read, but “discover” things that you may not even have known about. Meaning, how do we recreate that sense of browsing in a bookstore, or suddenly glancing at an article we overlooked, or turning the page of a magazine, or seeing, tucked away in an aside in a book we thought was about one thing, something really interesting about another thing altogether?

    Why is it that we always seem to be recreating what we already have?

    • #2
    • May 23, 2010, at 9:42 AM PDT
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  3. George Savage Contributor

    Mark Bauerlein, in The Dumbest Generation, writes concerning the growing fragmentation of knowledge, particularly among the young, “It isn’t enough to say that these young people are uninterested in world realities. They are actively cut off from them.” Cut off by the constant distraction of 24×7 connection to peers via mobile devices and social networking.

    Growing up, I found boredom a powerful motivator. It seems like nobody is bored enough any longer to suffer through the opening chapters of a great but complex book; not when the Xbox and, well, Ricochet beckon.

    • #3
    • May 23, 2010, at 9:55 AM PDT
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  4. James Poulos Contributor
    James Poulos

    Thanks, Rob, for giving me an excuse to put my political theorist’s hat on. Over the years I’ve been harping — hopefully not too pedantically — on the way that everyone nowadays seems to want a “sense of” some object or experience — often more than they seem to want the actual thing itself! What would abstract us away from our own reality like this?

    Technology, maybe — so that, because the reality of browsing at a bookstore can’t be replicated online, we hope to somehow experience a sense of that now-lost reality. Or maybe it’s time — we’re such busy people that it works a lot better for us to get a sense of the analog luxuries that our insanely successful and productive lives crowd out.

    But maybe it’s what Tocqueville called ‘the democratic age’ itself — the spread to all levels of life of greater and greater equality of conditions. Information in a democratic age takes the shape of a huge sea. We can’t figure out how to sort through it, so we turn to niche experts. But they turn to ‘public opinion’ for their own expertise…

    • #4
    • May 23, 2010, at 10:48 AM PDT
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  5. John Boyer Member
    John Boyer Joined in the first year of Ricochet Ricochet Charter Member

    “Yet “strip-mining content” reminds me of nothing so much as the strategy of “gutting books” — a venerable act of analog violence — that a graduate student must adopt in order to finish in less than 10 years.”

    Yeah, as a grad student, this definitely resonates. But my experience, both with blogs and news sites, is I will end up clicking on the headline and end up not reading the article very closely. Maybe the first paragraph.

    And hence the great importance of where you get your online news.

    • #5
    • May 24, 2010, at 8:10 AM PDT
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  6. Profile Photo Member

    I think the internet is probably the pinnacle of human achievement, and I find the voluminous information liberating. You’re free to look into a given subject as broadly or deeply as you choose. Maybe the internet is the “great equalizer” that puts us all a little bit closer to being on the same playing field in terms of what we are able to experience or learn about, at least on some level. I don’t think my generation can be dubbed “the dumbest generation” because so much knowledge is so much more easily available to us. There are other factors at work that lead so many of my contemporaries into willful ignorance of any given subject. 

    • #6
    • May 25, 2010, at 1:12 AM PDT
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  7. James Poulos Contributor
    James Poulos
    John Boyer: “Yet “strip-mining content” reminds me of nothing so much as the strategy of “gutting books” — a venerable act of analog violence — that a graduate student must adopt in order to finish in less than 10 years.”

    Yeah, as a grad student, this definitely resonates. But my experience, both with blogs and news sites, is I will end up clicking on the headline and end up not reading the article very closely. Maybe the first paragraph.

    And hence the great importance of where you get your online news.

    What’s your field of study, John?

    FYI, you can quote text from previous comments by simply clicking Quote — as I’ve done above by way of example! You can also edit quoted text to excerpt just what you want and no more.

    • #7
    • May 25, 2010, at 1:23 AM PDT
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  8. Profile Photo Member
    • #8
    • May 25, 2010, at 2:01 AM PDT
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  9. Profile Photo Member
    • #9
    • May 25, 2010, at 2:02 AM PDT
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  10. Profile Photo Member
    • #10
    • May 25, 2010, at 2:02 AM PDT
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