There’s a recent article in The Atlantic by Nicholas Carr (author of The Big Switch: Rewiring the World, From Edison to Google) which explores the effects of the internet on our reading – and thinking – habits. Drawing upon research by developmental psychologist Maryanne Wolf and sociologist Daniel Bell (among others), and citing as examples Friedrich Nietzsche’s use of a typewriter, Frederick Winslow Taylor’s efficiency experiments, Gutenberg’s printing press, and Kubrick’s 2001, Carr makes us wonder what we might be risking when we hand over to the internet (and Google) what we once considered to be far too invaluable to even commit to print – our ability to think!
Carr recalls the spirit of Plato’s Phaedrus, wherein Socrates bemoans the development of writing: ‘He feared that, as people came to rely on the written word as a substitute for the knowledge they used to carry inside their heads, they would, in the words of one of the dialogue’s characters, “cease to exercise their memory and become forgetful.” And because they would be able to “receive a quantity of information without proper instruction,” they would “be thought very knowledgeable when they are for the most part quite ignorant.” They would be “filled with the conceit of wisdom instead of real wisdom.” Socrates wasn’t wrong – the new technology did often have the effects he feared – but he was shortsighted. He couldn’t foresee the many ways that writing and reading would serve to spread information, spur fresh ideas, and expand human knowledge (if not wisdom)’.
Carr also cites from a recent essay by playwright Richard Foreman wherein Foreman writes:
I come from a tradition of Western culture, in which the ideal (my ideal) was the complex, dense and “cathedral-like” structure of the highly educated and articulate personality – a man or woman who carried inside themselves a personally constructed and unique version of the entire heritage of the West. [But now] I see within us all (myself included) the replacement of complex inner density with a new kind of self-evolving under the pressure of information overload and the technology of the “instantly available.”
As we are drained of our “inner repertory of dense cultural inheritance,” Foreman concluded, we risk turning into “‘pancake people’ – spread wide and thin as we connect with that vast network of information accessed by the mere touch of a button.”
For the full article.