One of the best things I’ve read on the subject of what the Internet does to our mental processing and social interactions is Adam Gopnik’s The information, How the Internet gets inside us. It was published in The New Yorker and is currently not behind a pay-wall.
Gopnik discusses the work of a number of writers, including the books Cognitive Surplus, Is the Internet Changing the Way You Think?, The Shallows, Hamlet’s BlackBerry, Alone Together, and Too Much to Know. He divides the thinking of these writers into three categories: Never-Better, Better-Never, and Ever-Waser.
The Never-Betters believe that we’re on the brink of a new utopia, where information will be free and democratic, news will be made from the bottom up, love will reign, and cookies will bake themselves. The Better-Nevers think that we would have been better off if the whole thing had never happened, that the world that is coming to an end is superior to the one that is taking its place, and that, at a minimum, books and magazines create private space for minds in ways that twenty-second bursts of information don’t. The Ever-Wasers insist that at any moment in modernity something like this is going on, and that a new way of organizing data and connecting users is always thrilling to some and chilling to others—that something like this is going on is exactly what makes it a modern moment.
Gopnik’s writing is inspired, as in the end of this passage:
[T]he Ever Wasers smile condescendingly at the Better-Nevers and say, “Of course, some new machine is always ruining everything. We’ve all been here before.” But the Better-Nevers can say, in return, “What if the Internet is actually doing it?” The hypochondriac frets about this bump or that suspicious freckle and we laugh—but sooner or later one small bump, one jagged-edge freckle, will be the thing for certain. Worlds really do decline. “Oh, they always say that about the barbarians, but every generation has its barbarians, and every generation assimilates them,” one Roman reassured another when the Vandals were at the gates, and next thing you knew there wasn’t a hot bath or a good book for another thousand years.
I found this next observation insightful. It relates to the offensive behavior so common on the Internet. Read more