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Post-Literate Generation: Is the Internet Making Us Stupid?

Probably, the most defining characteristic of modern society is the availability and abundance of information. At no other point in history has an average person been able to update their knowledge on current events and receive information as quickly as now. However, there is considerable concern regarding the endless supply of news. Many scientists, specifically, Nicholas Carr, believe that limitless access to information has the capacity to damage humanity’s ability to think critically (Nicholas Carr: Is the Internet Making Us Stupid?).

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Subsequently, the more people consume bits of knowledge data, the less effective they are at processing it and converting it into actual knowledge. In my opinion, the belief in the inherent danger of the Internet to human intellect is exaggerated. Understanding what constitutes the essence of deep thinking is essential in ascertaining the actual damage modern information flows inflicts upon minds.

The basic idea of Carr’s theory is that constant distractions impede the ability to think deeply. He references Marshall McLuhan’s thesis about the profound impact of new technology on the way humans live (Nicholas Carr: Is the Internet Making Us Stupid?). As much as the invention of a map and a clock changed how people view space and time, the introduction of digital communication has transformed attitudes towards information. Whereas past generations could immerse themselves in the printed press without being distracted, contemporary people are bombarded with advertisements, emails, newsfeeds, recommendations, friend’s posts, and other types of information, which impair the ability to focus. As a result, instead of deep thinking, the human mind is trained to keep track of multiple different sources, which leads to a decrease in overall intellectual capabilities.

The reason why I disagree with Carr’s criticism of the Internet lies in the supposition that modern media are providers of distractions as opposed to printed press in the age before the Internet. First, the problem of information overload has existed long before the Internet. Actually, complaints about the excess of books date to at least the first century (Blair). Universities always required students to amass large volumes of information, processing which creates confusion (Al-Kumaim et al. 25).

Writing any scientific paper necessitates working with abundant articles, books, research papers, and other sources. It does not matter what form they have – electronic or printed. A student and a researcher still have to focus on one idea while studying numerous sources and possibly losing track of the idea they have in mind. Therefore, the Internet is not solely responsible for the deficit of attention.

Second, Carr presumes that almost any activity on the Internet presupposes distractive background while reading a printed source increases attention span precisely because of the apparent lack of distractions. However, this view does not take into account web pages with a substantial amount of content with no advertisements. Reading an article from scientificamerican.com or longform.org requires as much attention as reading a printed article.

Although the presence of advertising banners is almost a staple of websites, not all hypertext documents contain promotional material. The most common example is Wikipedia. Although its validity is debated, the overall presentation is strictly simple and straight to the point. Besides, a user can install ad-blocking software, which will minimize exposure to external sources. As a result, it is entirely possible to consume long-form content on the Internet without distractions.

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Third, Carr focuses on the nature of the Internet as an external database as opposed to human memory, which is internal and more flexible. Carr argues that when people concentrate and use their memories, they recall their experiences, emotions, and associations and draw connections between the knowledge and their own personal input (Nicholas Carr: Is the Internet Making Us Stupid?). Using an external database does not develop concentration skills.

The problem that I have with this argument is that a printed book is also an external database. A person can read it and still forget the ideas because of being distracted by other books or printed sources. In the same way, as the map has facilitated the perception of the surrounding environment, the Internet facilitates access to information. However, the ability to resist distractions is dependent upon personal discipline, it is not compromised by the Internet itself.

Finally, Carr’s recommendation for managing information overload is having some time away from constant information flow. This is also a debatable issue because it is not clear what type of information he refers to. If he means communication via social messengers then a person can be as easily distracted by a real-life conversation. If he focuses on the excess of information in general then a person should stop reading as well. Once again, a book can provide as many distractions as a web page can. This implies that taking a break from the influx of information should also encompass reading activities.

In conclusion, the source of information is irrelevant. The human ability to process data is not impaired by the Internet itself. Books, articles, and other printed press also constitute large information flows. Electronic devices have simplified access to information. However, the loss of people’s ability to think deeply cannot be attributed to the Internet alone. It is true that digital presentation provides more distractions, but a person can also be distracted by books. Therefore, in order to sharpen one’s critical thinking skills, it is essential to regulate the entirety of informational flows, whether they are electronic or printed.

Works Cited

Al-Kumaim, Nabil Hasan, et al. “Exploring the Inescapable Suffering among Postgraduate Researchers: Information Overload Perceptions and Implications for Future Research.” International Journal of Information and Communication Technology Education (IJICTE), vol. 17, no. 1, 2021, pp. 19-41.

Blair, Ann. “Information Overload’s 2,300-Year-Old History.” Harvard Business Review. 2011. Web.

Nicholas Carr: Is the Internet Making Us Stupid?.” YouTube, uploaded by The Agenda with Steve Paikin. 2011. Web.

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