Whether I’m online or not, my mind now expects to take in information the way the Net distributes it: in a swiftly moving stream of particles.
Calm, focused, undistracted, the linear mind is being pushed aside by a new kind of mind that wants and needs to take in and dole out information in short, disjointed, often overlapping bursts––the faster, the better.
When it came to the brain, the child was indeed, as Wordsworth had written, the father to the man.
The genius of our brain’s construction is not that it contains a lot of hardwiring but that it doesn’t.
Plastic does not mean elastic.
Although the use of any kind of tool can influence our thoughts and perspectives––the plow changed the outlook of the farmer, the microscope opened new worlds of mental exploration for the scientist––it is our intellectual technologies that have the greatest and most lasting power over what and how we think.
Sometimes our tools do what we tell them to do. Other times, we adapt ourselves to our tools’ requirements.
The written word liberated knowledge from the bounds of individual memory and freed language from the rhythmical and formulaic structures required to support memorization and recitation. It opened to the mind broad new frontiers of thought and expression.
To read a book was to practice an unnatural process of thought, one that demanded sustained, unbroken attention to a single, static object. It required readers to place themselves at what T.S. Eliot, in Four Quartets, would call “the still point of the turning world.”
The words in books didn’t just strengthen people’s ability to think abstractly; they enriched people’s experience of the physical world, the world outside the book.
The way the Web has progressed as a medium replays, with the velocity of a time-lapse film, the entire history of modern media.
We don’t see the forest when we search the Web. We don’t even see the trees. We see twigs and leaves.
[The book] loses what the late John Updike called its “edges” and dissolves into the vast, roiling waters of the Net. The linearity of the printed book is shattered, along with the calm attentiveness it encourages in the reader.
In arguing that books are archaic and dispensable, Federman and Shirky provide the intellectual cover that allows thoughtful people to slip into the permanent state of distractedness that defines online life.
In the choices we have made, consciously or not, about how we use our computers, we have rejected the intellectual tradition of solitary, single-minded concentration, the ethic that the book bestowed on us. We have cast our lot with the juggler.
It’s possible to think deeply while surfing the Net, just as it’s possible to think shallowly while reading a book, but that’s not the type of thinking the technology encourages or rewards.
As the psychotherapist Michael Hausauer notes, teens and other young adults have a “terrific interest in knowing what’s going on in the lives of their peers, coupled with a terrific anxiety about being out of the loop.” If they stop sending messages, they risk becoming invisible.
When it comes to the firing of our neurons, it’s a mistake to assume that more is better.
What we are experiencing is, in a metaphorical sense, a reversal of the early trajectory of civilization: we are evolving from being cultivators of personal knowledge to being hunters and gatherers in the electronic data forest.
The Net is making us smarter…only if we define intelligence by the Net’s own standards.
Every click we make on the Web marks a break in our concentration, a bottom-up disruption of our attention––and it’s in Google’s economic interest to make sure we click as often as possible.
The irony in Google’s effort to bring greater efficiency to reading is that it undermines the very different kind of efficiency that the technology of the book brought to reading––and to our minds––in the first place.
The Web’s connections are not our connections––and no matter how many hours we spend searching and surfing, they will never become our connections. When we outsource our memory to a machine, we also outsource a very important part of our intellect and even our identity.