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Tuesday, September 7, 2010

The Digital Decline.

Thought I would post this, written about a year ago while I was in school, it was my final for English (got a B for it). I find it pretty relevant so ill post it up.

     Does reading an online article make a person less intelligent? Well, no but what it does do is make us lazy and antisocial. The arrival of internet has yielded many great things. The largest benefit being the ability to have all the information in the world at our fingertips. The downside to this being an information overload. Too much information on too many topics ready to digest at a moment's notice but the reliability of this information may not always be accurate and occasionally will be downright deceiving . Having all this information on hands is proving to be a dangerous matter because as we look up topics we find that our brains are shifting rapidly among topics, not having enough time to absorb the information we are reading. So it should come as no surprise that some columnist's like Nicholas Carr are complaining how they seem to have a shortening attention span, not being able to make it through heavy material they once were able to. If prolonged use of the Internet leads well read columnists to lose interest in long books or articles then those who are most vulnerable and malleable will become affected in the largest way. For todays youth growing up in the digital age steals them of the ability to think critically about what they are reading in favor of looking for the first article to feed their already short attention span.  This change in thinking not only affects how children and teens read and write but it can also affect how  they behave in a society.

             Children and teens are increasingly being raised by their computers, and because of this most will spend most of their time on social networking sites, or on Instant messengers, all of these encourage skimming through your friend pages, or writing short quickly paced sentences back and forth to their friends. In school when assigned a book they would much rather read the synapses on Wikipedia. In regards to the novel as an art form and how books might be a dying format, John Keilman said in his article "Is the novel too much for the tweet--addled brain?" "Not many people pine for the daguerreotype or the epic poem these days, so who's to say the novel (at least, any novel that doesn't feature boy wizards or a hottie vampire) has not become an equally obsolete art form." (Keilman.) What he is saying is that we may be approaching a time where the modern novel is becoming a relic of the past. This observation is none truer among today's youth who if asked to read a classic like "Romeo and Juliet" would turn their faces and rather ask for a quick summery. 

            Teenagers are not even absorbing what they read from synopsis online or in their friends blogs. In "Google is making us stupid." author Nicholas Carr, points out a study conducted by the University College of London that found that as people used who popular Internet research sites they "Found people using the sites exhibited "a form of skimming activity," hoping from one source to another and rarely returning to any source they had already visited." (Carr.) In other words what this means is that the subjects that took part in these studies were not properly absorbing the information they were taking in lowing their understanding of what they were looking up through skimming and never looking back at what they had read. This observation is also true of most teens today who naturally have a tendency to try to finish something quickly. Teens skim through a lot of what they read, but when you have a technology that encourages this behavior, it should come as no surprise that it will become part of ones natural way of thinking.

             John Keilman writes about how, like Carr, he has lost the ability to finish long pieces of literature. He also points out his attention span is not limited to only books and articles but to television shows as well "I cannot make it through half of a TV drama or three inning of a baseball game before I grow restless."(Keilman.) He observes that his loss of interest is not limited to only literary activities, but rather it extends to his viewing habits. This would aid explanations that the rise in popularity of websites such as Twitter and YouTube, which offer ten minute video clips and one sentence thoughts. These websites only show how Teens, the popular demographic, have flooded those sites. They cannot sit through an hour on television anymore without the need to check what some random celebrity on Twitter is thinking. 

            This technological change is not just limited to how we read and write but it can also affect how teens behave socially. The Associated Press reported on concerns being brought up by UCLA psychologist who states that prolonged exposure to the Internet and other technology can alter how our brain operates. He argues "When the brain spends more time on technology related tasks and less time exposed to other people, it drifts away from fundamental social skills like reading facial expressions during a conversation"(Associated Press.) I agree because Kids today relate better to their computers than they do to actual people, and would rather send a text message then call someone. This increase in using computers in their lives would lead them to become socially awkward because if most of their time is spent in isolation away from society they lose the ability to relate to real people. The brain it is used to social interaction to develop, replacing a computer with that interaction would cause it to adapt to better suit it's environment, causing the adolescent to become awkward socially.

            Some people may question this movement and ask whether the entire issue is being blown out of proportion. As the associated press points out John Rowe, 19--year old Internet enthusiast, who stated that he feels he is doing just fine despite being online most of the time.(Associated Press.) Although he thinks he is just fine I question whether he would be able to make it through a novel or if he would lose interest and go back to browsing online forums. Just as Socrates once rallied against the written word because he feared it would bring about the end of our ability to retain memory, it would seem some 4000 years later this same thing is happening except rather than the written word, What are we as a culture going to be when we cannot fully absorb any big articles or fully comprehend what we are reading. It appears to me as we would turn into sheep, believing the first thing we read and never question its importance. The ability to read deeply into things is our gateway into understanding motivations and increases our ability to critically thing about important issues.

            I will admit right now that we do not know everything about what is changing in our brains during this technological shift, or even if this shift is indeed for the worse and not to our benefit. From the place we sit now I would say it is a negative effect, you can see this on any web page that allows comments to be posted, and you will see comments that display rapid thinking, bad grammar and poorly thought out sentences. Also looking at teens who play too many video games or isolate themselves, instead preferring to communicate with someone 3000 miles away making them socially awkward because they have not spent enough time socializing with real people over text based personalities. Looking at the these habits will make one aware of the changes we are going through in society through relying on the Internet as our main source of information and socialization. 

             We have gone through many changes in thought throughout the time we humans have been on this planet, from the invention of modern language, to the printing press, and now the digital revolution, this could just be growing pains as we learn to adapt and live with this new form of communication. But if society continues down this path what will the world look like when the average American cannot read anything past a few hundred pages, or how will they be able to understand complicated social if they are merely skimming the surface to get a general idea of what the writer is saying, not bothering to read any deeper. Where will society be if the average teen is attached to his modem, isolating themselves indoors lacking the social interaction of face to face communication in favor of few sentence texts and ten minute viral videos. In the end it comes down to how much of our humanity is society willing to give up in support of convenience?

Works Cited

The Associated Press.  "Scientists: Is technology rewiring our brains? " Telegraph -
            Herald  5  Dec. 2008: ProQuest Newsstand, ProQuest. Web.  21 Nov.  2009.

Carr, Nicholas. "Is Google Making Us Stupid? " The Atlantic Monthly   1 July 2008:      
            Research Library, ProQuest. Web.  21 Nov.  2009.

Kielman, John.  "Is the novel too much for tweet-addled brain? " Chicago Tribune  8 
            May 2009: Research Library, ProQuest. Web.  22 Nov.  2009.


  1. Wow good post dude! supportin'

  2. I read the first sentence and was struck by the irony of you posting this paper on the internet.

    Then i skipped to the last paragraph because i don't want to read what you wrote if you can't adhere to your own predilections.

    Also, i think i'm funny.

  3. This seems to be a trend throughout society and I notice this even at school... but what can you do?

  4. The internet has its positives and negatives, it all depends on how u use it

  5. im da best

    check it

  6. haha this might come in handy someday thanks

  7. Interesting, didn't have the time to read the entire thing, but I will do so when I get home.

    Keep it up!