The internet is humankind’s third technological revolution in language—with writing and the printing press preceding it. Critics of this modern technology have come out of the woodwork, and in a cruel twist of fate we read their essays via the internet and computer screens. Is the internet good or bad for humanity? Well with most inventions, it isn’t such a simple dichotomy. Nicholas Carr’s 2009 article “Is Google Making Us Stupid?” leans toward the bad. For me, the internet is a terrific technology, but in order to save our humanity we need to relearn the (almost) lost art of focusing.
I think what Carr is concerned about has to do with what Sam Anderson talks about in his article “Defense of Distraction.” Our attention is impoverished, and we are constantly distracted by our eight browser tabs and brief online articles (Anderson 192). But Anderson offers some ways to counteract Google’s ability to dehumanize us; he references “executive function,” or “attentional self-control” (Anderson 193). This refers to one’s ability to zero-in on a particular task and block out aspects of the environment around us (193). Another way to combat the “Google Takeover” is to meditate (194). While life-hacking and neuroenhancers are also mentioned as ways to focus our attention, I think the aforementioned are some of our best weapons against flattening our intelligence into an artificial one, which Carr is so fearful of.
Executive function forces us to decide what is important: the music, the homework assignment, or the newest Reddit post? I like this method of focusing because we can turn the distractions into rewards for finishing a particular assignment or reading. In a world of instant gratification, it can be hard to justify concentrating on one thing. But if you force yourself to focus on a homework assignment until it is done, then you can a) probably get it done faster and b) enjoy an episode of your favorite TV show guilt- and distraction-free.
I also like the idea of “secular meditation” because it is a different kind of work-out; it is a mental work-out (194). The brain needs to stay just as exercised as your arms, legs, and stomach, otherwise things atrophy and become useless. Silence is incredible sometimes, because in that silence we can get a short story idea, or solve that difficult math equation, or remember the first date we had with our partner. And even if internal thoughts are absent during that silence, then at least you aren’t stressed about all the emails, Facebook updates, and world events going on around you.
After reading Anderson and Carr’s articles, I have made an effort to read AP articles from start-to-finish; to put the phone down when I am watching TV; and to let my thoughts wander as I go out jogging. Results may vary, but I feel like I am accomplishing a lot more while the people around me struggle to be split ten ways.