So, this is my life.

And I want you to know that I am both happy and sad and I'm still trying to figure out how that could be.

Wednesday, May 13, 2009

are you stupid or something?

just wanted to share a few excerpts of a fascinating article in The Atlantic that considers the effects our everyday internet usage and heavy reliance thereon are having on our brains, or at least our thought processes.

it's much too long for any of you internet-affected dummies to read the entire thing, so here are a few chunks i appreciated while impatiently skimming through it ;-)

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.

* * *

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... “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.

* * *

The idea that our minds should operate as high-speed data-processing machines is not only built into the workings of the Internet, it is the network’s reigning business model as well. The faster we surf across the Web—the more links we click and pages we view—the more opportunities Google and other companies gain to collect information about us and to feed us advertisements. Most of the proprietors of the commercial Internet have a financial stake in collecting the crumbs of data we leave behind as we flit from link to link—the more crumbs, the better. The last thing these companies want is to encourage leisurely reading or slow, concentrated thought. It’s in their economic interest to drive us to distraction.

i have to admit i've noticed similar changes -- i'm sure we all have. (some of you probably couldn't even make it through those three excerpts above.) but i am also skeptical of these theories.

just think about the fact that millions of people will still sit for hours -- days, even! -- after a Harry Potter book hits the stands, reading feverishly and getting lost in the story. people do it every day, just minutes after stepping away from their computer screens.

and maybe we're not memorizing the Twilight novel, but doing that would probably dumb us down worse than the internet does. no offense...

what are your thoughts? or has the internet robbed you of them all?


Pat said...

I'm not gonna lie... I couldn't even get myself to read all of those excerpts.

Anonymous said...

one could argue that the prose in Harry Potter is yet another product of the internet age. it doesn't take a scholar to realize JK Rowling's writing ability is hardly on par with CS Lewis, or even Roald Dahl.

*t said...

First of all I want to comment on "Anonymous"--Harry Potter is not a product of the internet age. See "The 39 Clues" series--THAT is a product of the internet age (a reading experience that takes kids online, collecting cards and clues to unlock info--a multimedia reading experience). HP got kids who would NEVER in their life pick up a 100 page book to be interested in one over 300 pages, book after book after book. There are many kids books nowadays written on par with CS Lewis, or even Roald Dahl...and go beyond. (OKay, stepping off my soapbox now)

There's no doubt that the internet has caused everyone to have A.D.D. See everyone's new obsession with Twitter. WTF.

I admit I've felt it a bit. But most of all I question our reliance on technology for the simplest things, like adding. I find myself grabbing for a calculator when I could just use my head...if only the circuit wasn't fritzed.


Anonymous said...

responding to *t, i've never heard of "the 39 clues" but would agree that(based on your description of it) it's way more "internety" than harry potter.

but that doesn't excuse JK Rowling's prose. i'll admit i've only read the first 4 books, but i've seen enough to know that she writes with "'efficiency' and 'immediacy' above all else" and, i think, appeals to our "[weakened] capacity for...deep reading." yes, she's reeled in millions of children who'd otherwise never touch a book, but that's only because her books require zero effort to read. the words float off the page and into your brain; you've finished 20 pages before you know it. that's not necessarily a mark of quality, but definitely one of marketability in an ADD culture.

now i'll let the cantankerous harold bloom speak for me:

*t said...

What does "effort" have to do with quality?

Do you mean to tell me that all effortful reads in your life have been the best ones of quality?

To some extent all art forms are a reflection of the time they were created in.

I simply think that Harry Potter is a wrong example of an "Internet Age" book. I don't deny that there are potato-chip-popper children's books out there in the market. But this isn't one of them.

that guy said...

i'll add my short commentary to this discussion.

as i told "anonymous" (actually my buddy andy) earlier:

i haven't read her books, so i don't have an opinion on her

but i don't think that has anything to do with the internets and other technological advances

there have always been amazing writers, and there have always been poor writers

it's strange, but not unusual, when the less talented writers become the most popular

andy said...

*t, matthew tells me you edit young adult fiction for a living, which is awesome. and i really believe you when you say there are worse books out there for kids. i suffered through the movie version of “a series of unfortunate events” and was reminded of something I learned in a basic fiction class – “good fiction is more than just a series of events.” which is all the movie (and i can only assume the book) really was — one mildly amusing or scary scene after another, with the thinnest thread of overarching plot and character development holding them together. it’s a work of marketing genius, because the story structure is the set up for a lucrative series that never has to end. how many books have been written to date? 15?

but anyway, back to Harry Potter. the basis of my “internet age” claim was simply the fact that i saw parallels between the atlantic guy’s description of internet writing and JK Rowling’s easily digestible prose. that’s all. in terms of HP’s value as literature in general, i happen to think the first two HP books were glorified whodunits, though the third and fourth books definitely broke out of that structure. but i still can’t shake the feeling that HP is a giant shameless pastiche of dozens of fantasy universes that came before it.

i totally agree that all art forms reflect the spirit of the times, and I do recognize that a book like, say, The Hobbit, with its dense physical descriptions, was written a long time ago when people used the english language differently. but, i believe, one can make an objective comparison between a book like The Hobbit and Harry Potter, and conclude that the Hobbit’s and LOTR's myriad descriptions signify a universe that has been more fully imagined by its author. it takes more effort to process and envision the prose, and, in my opinion, is much more rewarding.