Posted by: seanmalstrom | June 5, 2011

How the Internet is changing the Old World

Here is something interesting.

Like tens of millions of others, US technology writer Nicholas Carr found the lure of the worldwide web hard to resist — until he noticed itwas getting harder and harder to concentrate.

He set out his concerns in a celebrated essay headlined “Is Google making us stupid?”

And his latest book “The Shallows” explores in depth what he fears the Internet is doing to our brains.

“The seductions of technology are hard to resist,” Carr acknowledges in that book, which has sold an estimated 50,000 hardback copies in the United States alone. But he thinks it’s time to start trying.

In a speech at last week’s Seoul Digital Forum and an interview with AFP, Carr restated his concerns that IT is affecting the way people think and feel and even the physical make-up of their brains.

Every new technology in history — like the map and the clock — changed the way people think but Carr sees special dangers in the Internet.

He got his first PC back in the 1980s and was an avid net user until “a few years ago, I noticed some disturbing changes in the way my mind worked. I was losing the ability to concentrate.”

While the Internet has enormous benefits in delivering incredible amounts of information at incredible speed, it’s also a distracting and interruption-rich environment.

Carr said it encourages quick shifts in focus — and discourages sustained attention and the ability to think deeply and creatively about one topic and to challenge conventional wisdom.

Popularity-driven search engines, in one of the ironies of an information-rich Internet, worsen the problem by leading everyone to the same sources, he said.

Social networks, while pleasurable and fun, increase distractedness by bombarding users with brief bits of information.

“We take in so much information so quickly that we are in a constant state of cognitive overload,” Carr argued.

“Multitasking erodes cognitive control. We lose our ability to say that this is important, this is unimportant. All we want is new information.”

In contrast, when readers open a printed book, “there’s nothing else going on except words on a page, no distractions. It helps train us to be deep thinkers.”

Is the Internet making us stupider? Is it making us more shallow? Is it making us unable to think ‘more deeply’?

What I think is that this writer is quite frustrated. The Internet has unleashed tons of alternatives to ‘traditional books’, and writers have to compete.

There is a review about this guy’s book I want to quote.

Not Just Elites: More People Read Material

That said, my initial response to a lot of his points was that they were valid. Some of the points in this book are valid. The increasing “drinking from a fire hydrant” feeling of information overload is undeniably real. The problem with this book is that he compares our current life to the “good ol’ days” when people read more deeply, wrote more deeply, etc. And even he notes that those were the rich elite. In fact, in the good ol’ days, most of the world was illiterate.

My cousin is a construction work and my brother installs security cameras for a living. Both claim they hated high school and neither could tolerate much more formal education. My brother choked down some university courses because he was able earn GI Bill beer money as a result.

Still, decades ago, my conversations with them lacked depth and range. Today, my brother is well versed on a wide variety of science, technology, politics, global events. I’m amazed at the conversations I have with both of them and with other family members who eschewed formal education.

Not only is technology bringing people with little interest in deep reading into the fold, its expanding the reach and range for those of us with an interest in everything. I’ve always loved to read, but years ago, I had to dedicate a week or two to a good book. Now, with my empowered iPod, I can consume a book in a day or two. This one included.

Japanese are surprisingly well-read; at least Tokyoites, owing to the hours they spend in commute on the Metro system. I learned to love my iPod when I was commuting by bus and metro in DC. I don’t need a seat. I don’t need to focus on bouncing words on a page to read. My iPod keeps dumping ideas into my brain as I step up onto the bus, touch my smart card to pay for the bus, walk down the stairs into the metro, pass through the turnstiles. My reading hours have been expanded to any time when I’m driving, walking, even exercising.

Sorry, the end result I see is more people with more data in their brains, processing more information and mulling it over in conversations. The world isn’t getting more shallow, but it might getting “flat” er. Today, literacy rates throughout the world are climbing, access to a range of information. Globally, it’s a good thing on the whole. I’m sure the intellectual elite are still reading just as deeply as ever before.

Thanks for the idea, though.

I have noticed this as well. Those who did not have formal education now have access to information. But like all things, it depends on how you use it. The Internet is a great tool or a great distraction.

Christensen remarked how education needs to be redone and revolve more around replacing teachers with computers. Let the student provide his pace.

Think about the access of information we have today as opposed to decades ago. In 1991, the Internet hadn’t yet exploded. Alternative information sites were appearing in other areas such as radio (which was considered dead since the arrival of TV). You did have cable then.

In 1981, you just had the networks. ABC, NBC, CBS. You had newspapers. The ‘high information’ people tended to only read newspapers, and they would be subscribing to a dozen newspapers and magazines. In 1971, you had a similar situation but with less magazines, less news sources. In 1961, 1951, 1941, you had some TV, mostly radio and newspapers.

Without a doubt, there is more information available to us than there was before. One trend I have been seeing is more and more people are self-learning financial education (because they have to). It is not something that formal education can really teach. I’ve also heard politicians, over the years, become upset with how well informed their constituents are. They are angry now that more and more voters can actually read the finances behind budget plans.

Even on the gaming front, look at how much has changed. Gaming news used to revolve only around game magazines and then later big websites like IGN. Now those are crumbling away to message forums and blogs.

Today, you can honestly say you understand more about ‘gaming’ than you did ten years ago, twenty years ago, or thirty years ago.



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