A debate about the effects the Internet has on our cognition is raging, ironically, on the pages of the net. Nicholas Carr writes in an article for The Atlantic that the abundance of information on the internet is causing readers to focus on breadth and speed of reading rather than depth of reading and thinking. His opponent, our old friend Clay Shirkey, sees the abundance of information made possible by the Internet as another change that opens doors for accessing information we previously never would have encountered. Shirkey believes that challenging this change or giving pause to the possible detractors of rapid information dissemination is a waste of time and effort.
Now I’m not entirely convinced by either camp, but this assertion by Shirkey particularly irks me. We should always try to examine change and the pros and cons it brings. This is how we will better understand changes occurring in our world, whether our predictions are right are wrong really doesn’t matter because nothing can stop change from happening. The fact that Shirkey and Carr were writing at all renders Shirkey’s point null. Discussing change is important, and it is happening all the time.
The question for me is not whether the Internet is good or bad for the way we think and read, rather we should pursue uses of the internet that positively impact the future of reading and thinking. Blogging and online books represent an enormous opportunity for scholars and their audiences; we should try to harness this tool rather than debating its powers of good or evil. The Internet is a powerful tool for both good (ie information access) and evil (ie shortening our attention spans) and I would be interested in hearing more from both sides of this argument before casting my vote either way.