Monday, June 14, 2010

We Are the Pancake People

Yes, I realize that I am using the Internet to write the following.

The Internet "pulverizes attention, the scarcest of all resources, and stuffs the mind with trivia. Our texting, IM-ing, iPhoning, Twittering, computer-assisted selves—or self-assisted computing networks—are so easily diverted that our very mode of everyday thought has changed, changed utterly, degraded from “calm, focused, undistracted” linearity into “a new kind of mind that wants and needs to take in and dole out information in short, disjointed, often overlapping bursts.” So thinks Nicholas Carr in his new book The Shallows: What the Internet Is Doing To Our Brains, reviewed here by Todd Gitlin. We are the "pancake people" - flat, spread thin by bits of information, with no depth.

We are a people who cannot concentrate or think straight. We are the Multi-Taskers. We are the Twittering nerve nodes. Neuroscientist David Meyer writes that multitasking "is learning to be skillful at a superficial level." The "hive mind" of the Internet and its "widespread practice of fragmentary, impersonal communication has demeaned interpersonal interaction." Surely there are socio-cultural ramifications of the pancake life, and Carr presents them to us.

I have banned laptops and texting in my philosophy classes. Since I love teaching, and love seeing students learn, and because Kant's Critique of Pure Reason cannot be tweeted, I confront the pancake people in the hope of morphing one of them into an oak tree. As Gitlin concludes, "The arts of contemplation have been hard to practice for centuries, but that is no reason to make them any harder."