I’ve been thinking about the Internet a lot lately.
I bet you have, too.
After all, it’s practically impossible to go about our daily lives in 21st century American society without smacking right into its ubiquitous presence (unless, of course, you intentionally dismissed yourself from modern life to live unplugged in the wilderness — which sounds nice some days).
The Internet and Us: A Complex Story
I stumbled upon an article titled “Is Google Making Us Stupid? What the Internet is doing to our brains.” It was originally posted by Nicholas Carr in The Atlantic in 2008, and he apparently wrote a book about it in 2011, but its points ring timely still today. (In Internet time, 6 years is an eternity, but these principles and the discussion still applies.)
It’s largely understood the Internet is changing humanity: our brains, our work, our relationships and nearly everything else. Countless jobs exist today solely because of the Internet, and without it, wouldn’t.
The spread of information, access to it, allowing voices to be heard that were previously drowned out by louder ones, a new age of industries, organizations, connections and so much more stand to reason the Internet’s got a lot of great benefits to offer. Plus, we all love logging into Facebook to see what our friends had for dinner without having to talk to them in person.
But what are the downsides? Are there any? How deeply will the generations of today be adversely affected by the constancy and immersion of the web?
What Did Socrates Prophesy About The Internet?
An excerpt from Carr’s article:
In Plato’s Phaedrus, Socrates bemoaned 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.
Recap: Socrates worried that humanity would get mentally lazy when society moved from an oral tradition to a written tradition. Because they could write things down, they wouldn’t have to remember or think through ideas. Written tradition allowed them to pretend they knew something they really didn’t.
Just read it off the page convincingly and everyone listening assumes you know what you’re talking about, right?
The Internet: Appearance of Knowledge vs. Actual Wisdom
In the same way, the Internet means we don’t have to know what we once had to remember. A foreign idea is only a Google search away. The name of the best novel of our favorite author slipped your mind? No problem; the Internet remembers for you.
With the web at our fingertips, are we tricking ourselves into thinking we’re smarter than we really are? Do we really know what the word ‘ubiquitous’ means, or have we just heard it a lot and seen it in blog articles on the Internet? (Confession: I double checked the definition before posting.)
Are we on the dangerous path to mental devolution? Or, as Socrates said,”thought very knowledgeable when they are for the most part quite ignorant”?
Are we exchanging actual knowledge for the appearance of wisdom?
I sure hope not.
But I can’t tell where the information superhighway will take us.
Do you think the Internet is changing the way we think and act? Is this good or bad?