I recently read Nicholas Carr’s fantastic article, “Is Google Making us Stupid?”, which argues that the internet is to blame for attention problems that are afflicting many an internet user. He says, “My mind now expects to take in information the way the Net distributes it: in a swiftly moving stream of particles. Once I was a scuba diver in the sea of words. Now I zip along the surface like a guy on a Jet Ski.” He later compares it to Stanley Kubrick’s 2001: Space Odyssey, saying, “As we come to rely on computers to mediate our understanding of the world, it is our own intelligence that flattens into artificial intelligence.”
While it horrified me, this article was strangely comforting in that it quieted my fears of being the only one feeling this way. I’d never before blamed the internet, but thought my increasing difficulty in concentrating on large chunks of text on screen was simply a part of growing older – and being only 28, I was (and still am) very concerned!
In his article “The Evolution from Linear Thought to Networked Thought”, Scott Karp doesn’t see anything wrong with consuming information online in a fluid way. He admits hopping from one link to another without finishing reading a text – and sees nothing wrong with web consumption being “kinetic, scattered, all over the place.” He then compares this “networked thought” to the information processing of Google, in an attempt to validate it. He even muses about whether or not this new thinking process might be a positive thing.
The way I see it, euphemistically renaming it “networked thought” simply sugar-coats this unsettling change in cognition. I mean, what’s next? Is the next generation of internet users going to completely lose their ability to read the old-fashioned book? newspaper article? anything longer than a tweet? And if a novel can’t be stomached, how do can we expect new literature to be written when it can’t even be read?
Furthermore, in the blogosphere, it seems to me like bad taste to admit skimming or link-hopping away from posts. I got a laugh from one comment’s irony: “I think you’re on to something there, Scott — but I’m not sure what, because I never made it to the end of your post.”