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Old 06-12-2008, 04:46 PM   #1
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the internets make us stupid

so i was on vacation for a good 9 days last week, and i completely avoided computers. i found myself calming down, relaxing, taking it easy, and feeling unhurried and unrushed. these are all things that should happen on a vacation. but i also discovered myself doing something i haven't done in a while: reading a novel. i had chalked up my recent non-reading to the fact that my job has been very intense for the past year or so as i've been working very long hours and taken on a boatload of new responsibility. i've tried to pick up a book here and there but have lost interest after a short while. again, i thought this was all due to fatigue, and that were i to get a break, i'd get back into my old reading habits -- i'm a Lit major and a one-time voracious reader (going back to early childhood). and so i got my break, first one in a long while, and i did indeed slip back into the world of the novel. was it the break from life? or was it the break from the internet?

an article from The Atlantic:

[q]Over the past few years I’ve had an uncomfortable sense that someone, or something, has been tinkering with my brain, remapping the neural circuitry, reprogramming the memory. My mind isn’t going—so far as I can tell—but it’s changing. I’m not thinking the way I used to think. I can feel it most strongly when I’m reading. Immersing myself in a book or a lengthy article used to be easy. My mind would get caught up in the narrative or the turns of the argument, and I’d spend hours strolling through long stretches of prose. That’s rarely the case anymore. Now my concentration often starts to drift after two or three pages. I get fidgety, lose the thread, begin looking for something else to do. I feel as if I’m always dragging my wayward brain back to the text. The deep reading that used to come naturally has become a struggle.

I think I know what’s going on. For more than a decade now, I’ve been spending a lot of time online, searching and surfing and sometimes adding to the great databases of the Internet. The Web has been a godsend to me as a writer. Research that once required days in the stacks or periodical rooms of libraries can now be done in minutes. A few Google searches, some quick clicks on hyperlinks, and I’ve got the telltale fact or pithy quote I was after. Even when I’m not working, I’m as likely as not to be foraging in the Web’s info-thickets—reading and writing e-mails, scanning headlines and blog posts, watching videos and listening to podcasts, or just tripping from link to link to link. (Unlike footnotes, to which they’re sometimes likened, hyperlinks don’t merely point to related works; they propel you toward them.)

For me, as for others, the Net is becoming a universal medium, the conduit for most of the information that flows through my eyes and ears and into my mind. The advantages of having immediate access to such an incredibly rich store of information are many, and they’ve been widely described and duly applauded. “The perfect recall of silicon memory,” Wired’s Clive Thompson has written, “can be an enormous boon to thinking.” But that boon comes at a price. As the media theorist Marshall McLuhan pointed out in the 1960s, media are not just passive channels of information. They supply the stuff of thought, but they also shape the process of thought. And what the Net seems to be doing is chipping away my capacity for concentration and contemplation. 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.

I’m not the only one. When I mention my troubles with reading to friends and acquaintances—literary types, most of them—many say they’re having similar experiences. The more they use the Web, the more they have to fight to stay focused on long pieces of writing. Some of the bloggers I follow have also begun mentioning the phenomenon. Scott Karp, who writes a blog about online media, recently confessed that he has stopped reading books altogether. “I was a lit major in college, and used to be [a] voracious book reader,” he wrote. “What happened?” He speculates on the answer: “What if I do all my reading on the web not so much because the way I read has changed, i.e. I’m just seeking convenience, but because the way I THINK has changed?”

Bruce Friedman, who blogs regularly about the use of computers in medicine, also has described how the Internet has altered his mental habits. “I now have almost totally lost the ability to read and absorb a longish article on the web or in print,” he wrote earlier this year. A pathologist who has long been on the faculty of the University of Michigan Medical School, Friedman elaborated on his comment in a telephone conversation with me. His thinking, he said, has taken on a “staccato” quality, reflecting the way he quickly scans short passages of text from many sources online. “I can’t read War and Peace anymore,” he admitted. “I’ve lost the ability to do that. Even a blog post of more than three or four paragraphs is too much to absorb. I skim it.” [/q]



and what's funny? i haven't read the whole thing yet. the article (posted on a blog) caught my attention, i assumed i knew about what the conclusions would be, and i felt like it might make for an interesting thread on FYM. so, boom, i rushed to post it because i'm most curious not about the content, but to the reactions to the content that this article (probably skimmed by all those who may reply) would engender.

is that bad?

are we thinking differently? in some ways, i feel as if the internet has improved may skills ... i feel as if i'm writing as well as ever, perhaps better due to the snappy, quick, no-fat, no-bullshit writing that posting requires, and i'm able to expose myslef to a wide variety of thought and writing styles that in turn (positively) affect my own. today i was reading through Augusten Borrough's blog, and was marveling at his wildly creative descriptions of being on a book tour in Canada. i find that i'm able to discuss things with people -- online or off -- in as much detail as ever, but i have noticed a decline in my ability to slide into longer, deeper, more time consuming articles on the web.

i just don't read the way i once did.

anyone else notice this? what are the effects? what are the internets doing to us? is this good or bad? or just different? how do we react to a tool that might fundamentally be altering the way we absorb information?

i also wonder if some of this doesn't tie into what many have understood as The Decline of FYM. yes, 4-5 years ago, this place was different. not so much in level of civility, as i understand it, but in the time and care people would take to post articles, more like they were writing mini-essays instead of quick, sharp points of point and counterpoint. could it be that we have all been affected by The Google and the Internets? are we thinking differently? are we not so much responsible for the decline of discourse (if we can agree that it is a decline at all) and more victims of it?

have you read this far?
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Old 06-12-2008, 04:56 PM   #2
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the internet is an easy medium to sound informed while you're not
google a link
use the online thesaurus

you really dont need to be aware of the actual topic at hand
nor is an opinion of said topic really necessary

if all else fails
USE CAPS!!!!!


I have to say that I do think it's an interesting theory that the decline of FYM is due to people's increasing inability to read
I never thought about that
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Old 06-12-2008, 04:56 PM   #3
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Very interesting indeed. Hmmmm. I think your on to something here.
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Old 06-12-2008, 05:06 PM   #4
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so i'm reading the article in one window, while keeping FYM open in the other, all while working with the editor on my show, and this paragraph has jumped out at me:

[q]Thanks to the ubiquity of text on the Internet, not to mention the popularity of text-messaging on cell phones, we may well be reading more today than we did in the 1970s or 1980s, when television was our medium of choice. But it’s a different kind of reading, and behind it lies a different kind of thinking—perhaps even a new sense of the self. “We are not only what we read,” says Maryanne Wolf, a developmental psychologist at Tufts University and the author of Proust and the Squid: The Story and Science of the Reading Brain. “We are how we read.” Wolf worries that the style of reading promoted by the Net, a style that puts “efficiency” and “immediacy” above all else, may be weakening our capacity for the kind of deep reading that emerged when an earlier technology, the printing press, made long and complex works of prose commonplace. When we read online, she says, we tend to become “mere decoders of information.” Our ability to interpret text, to make the rich mental connections that form when we read deeply and without distraction, remains largely disengaged.[/q]



efficiency and immediacy. can you come up with two better adjectives to describe the tenor of most of the posts on FYM?
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Old 06-12-2008, 05:10 PM   #5
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Irvine511 View Post
efficiency and immediacy. can you come up with two better adjectives to describe the tenor of most of the posts on FYM?
I think snarky and bitchy work better.
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Old 06-12-2008, 05:16 PM   #6
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I definitely see some what you're talking about and what the article (the small portion of it I read) is talking about. I used to be able to study for hours on end without getting too distracted, but now I feel like I have really bad ADHD. I feel like my mind has been trained to read and process headlines and short news releases. Reading the long articles takes too much time away from reading more headlines and blurbs. I feel like I need to read everything and forsake depth. I may think my knowledge base is becoming broader by gobbling up headlines but in reality I probably know less about more and that's not necessarily a good thing.
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Old 06-12-2008, 05:51 PM   #7
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Quote:
Originally Posted by indra View Post
I think snarky and bitchy work better.
Arrogant and antagonistic are even better.
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Old 06-12-2008, 05:54 PM   #8
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Arrogant and antagonistic are even better.


is this response not more of the same thing?
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Old 06-12-2008, 06:22 PM   #9
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I don't disagree with the theory; I do, though, wonder how unprecedented this phenomenon really is. How many of you former English majors and avowed novel enthusiasts loved philosophy class--at least, back when you were forced to take it in college--and still nominally keep on your 'list' a few philosophical works you'd 'like to read someday,' but in truth, doubt you'd have the patience to think that way anymore? How many former social science majors (guilty raised hand here) read novels voraciously as a kid, still loved Lit electives through your college years, but in truth have found it very difficult to get into a novel since then, even if book-length nonfiction remains a pleasure? While very different in some ways from the short-attention-span problems caused by an Internet-heavy diet, I think these things all have in common the atrophy of one particular type of intellectual skill due to relative disuse compared to others (and learning to find and synthesize information via the Internet is definitely a skill). You could argue, though, that "a decline in my ability to slide into longer, deeper, more time consuming" writings is a more serious problem, in that it closes off more genres to you than, say, a decline in your ability to slide into philosophical texts specifically does, and I think that's likely true. But how much of a problem it is probably depends largely on what your personal ambitions are.

Whenever I grade the first batch of papers from a new class, I find myself mentally sorting the students into "Readers" and "Nonreaders" based on their writing, and realistically this does have a lot to do with how much "longer, deeper, more time consuming" reading they seem to have done. I think most any humanities professor probably does this to some extent. Although it'd be hard to characterize concisely, there's an unmistakable sort of sloppiness and scatteredness and incompleteness of thought typical of "Nonreaders"; it's really quite easy to spot, and readily distinguishable from other common problems (students who just didn't put much effort into this particular paper; students who are well-read but lack adequate preparation in compositional skills; students who lack adequate preparation in the relevant discipline and are having difficulty grasping and applying its particular conceptual tools; etc.). Especially in grad students, it's usually a bad sign, and means they're going to really have to scramble to catch up and keep up with their peers.

I'm not so sure how much this has to do with changes in FYM, though; I'm sure I'm still perfectly capable of composing long, densely argued posts (though I'll readily admit to doing it less), but my sense is not that I now lack the patience or concentration to do so (or to read and absorb those of others), but rather, Well, what's the point in spending that much time and effort when no one else seems to be doing it either? And the Election Season back-and-forth is the nadir of that, it really is; people might as well be discussing, well, a horse race ("My guy kicks ass!!! Your guy sux!!!" ...snoooooze) most of the time. Almost no conceptual content, which is what good debate thrives on. Maybe that's all a grumpily roundabout way of pinning the shortcoming in question on others, though.

Anyone see this same phemonenon being present in audio-visual and audio media as well? Or is this just a written-medium thing?
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Old 06-12-2008, 06:41 PM   #10
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What's wrong with efficiency and immediacy? I still read books. The internet helps me find them faster. In NO WAY do I miss the good ol' days when I didn't have the internets. I suffered through those days quite long enough. I want more internets. Bigger internets. Faster internets.
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Old 06-12-2008, 07:24 PM   #11
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Originally Posted by Irvine511 View Post
i also wonder if some of this doesn't tie into what many have understood as The Decline of FYM. yes, 4-5 years ago, this place was different. not so much in level of civility, as i understand it, but in the time and care people would take to post articles, more like they were writing mini-essays instead of quick, sharp points of point and counterpoint. could it be that we have all been affected by The Google and the Internets? are we thinking differently? are we not so much responsible for the decline of discourse (if we can agree that it is a decline at all) and more victims of it?
For my part, I used to write more, due to "youthful exuberance," more than anything. Nowadays, I can still write stuff in great detail, but, unless it is about the same old hot button issues, I don't get very many replies. Since I'm not interested in writing about hot button issues, I guess that means I'm not going to write very much anymore.

Secondly, I do blame work for my lack of time. I spend a lot of time there, and I put in 100% when I'm working. By the time I get back home, I'm often mentally spent, and the last thing I'm able to do is write anything detailed. Nonetheless, catch me in conversation, and, if you're interested, I'll be happy to talk about arcane philosophy for hours, if you can handle it.

I guess, for me, as much as I appreciate the invention of the internet, I increasingly feel its limitations, and that, along with the factors above, are why I don't write as much as I used to.
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Old 06-12-2008, 07:42 PM   #12
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There is research done which suggests that what used to be called 'surfing the net' actually stimulates the brain, whereas by contrast watching TV has a mildly soporific, brain-deadening effect.

I read a fair bit, more now than ever. I would say my 'intellectual life' has if anything, improved since I started using the internet on a regular basis. I'd say I have a short attention span, but that has nothing got to do with the internet.

The main problem with the internet, including discussion forums, is that it can become like a sort of 'high school chat book'. By which I mean, it can lack a sense of perspective about itself.

But ultimately, TV is far more anti-intellectual than the internet, in my opinion.
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Old 06-12-2008, 08:11 PM   #13
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The internet only makes us lazy IMO, but there's no getting over sitting on our asses while we surf the internetz. It's far better than television, that's for sure.
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Old 06-12-2008, 10:55 PM   #14
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I don't necessarily think one is worse than the other when it comes to the internet or TV "dumbing us down." It all depends on what you watch, or do on the internet.

Watching infomercials vs. engaging in internet discussion? Internet wins.

Watching something you find personally interesting on, say, the Discovery Channel vs. downloading porn? TV wins.

(waits for rebuttal about value of porn)
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Old 06-13-2008, 12:46 AM   #15
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Is there a value in porn?
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