Reasonable Words: The Internet Effect

There’s been a run on (to me somewhat specious) books about the supposed baleful effects of the Internet. I went to hear Nicolas Carr read from The Shallows, his take on this phenomenon at the Harvard Book Store a while back. You could do a fun social history of the supposed deleterious effects of cultural formats and content through the ages. (I think it starts with Plato, down with reading and writing as they impair memory and extemporization.)

Plato’s points are true, as are many of the criticism of subsequent developments–jazz’s immoral effect, TV’s vast wasteland, video games recalibrating of visual cortext). But are these bad things or just trade offs? A trivial example, is it so bad that handwriting is getting lousier and is not even taught in schools in the U.S. any more? That seems more of the measure to make of these changes. It doesn’t strike me as a moral evil, although good handwriting was once considered a moral good. (Don’t ask me though, my handwriting was always crap.)

Support for that argument that the Internet is not making us dumber, and may be helping us avoid dementia, from Der Spiegel (translated into English).

Most of the report is tied to rising IQs, and does note that vocabulary is changing.

“Linguistically, the generations are growing apart,” Flynn states. “Young people can still understand their parents, but they can no longer mimic their style of speech. That was different in the past.” One possible reason for the change is that today’s young people read and write many short messages on Facebook and on their cell phones, but they rarely immerse themselves in books anymore.

Flynn says this is a pity — but no reason to panic. What some have taken for “digital dementia,” he explains, is ultimately just children and young people adapting to a world that is faster-paced and strongly influenced by digital media.



“Children and young people adapting…” Reasonable words indeed: a technology is neither intrinsically good or bad.

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