Literacy and the Internet
To what extent do you agree with the claim that the “devaluation of contemplative thought … is a loss not only for us as individuals but also for our culture” or with the claim that the risk of losing our culture and our abilities to reason are overblown.” Provide reasons and evidence to support your point of view.
The assignment is expected to be typed in English, in a 12-point font, double-spaced, at least 400 words long, and free of errors in spelling, punctuation, or grammar. Students are expected to present a clear thesis and to construct valid, logical arguments with supporting evidence in responding to the question. Most of the assignment should be written by the student, not just quoting sources. Every written assignment is expected to be original work that the student personally researched and wrote for this course.
Literacy and the InternetNicholas Carr, a widely publishedtechnical writer, thoughtmaybe he was suffering”middle-age mind rot.” At 47he realized he couldn’t payattention to one thing for morethan a couple minutes. Backin college at Dartmouth, Carrloved books and spent hours inthe library. So what was happeningnow, almost 30 yearslater? Indeed, was it mind rot?
No, Carr says. But how heuses his brain has changed drastically-and not necessarilyfor the better. Heblames the internet.
In his book The Shallows,Carr notes that the brain is acreature of habit. Just as a rutin a road deepens with traffic,so do the channels of connectivityin the brain. The more hewas using the internet over the years, picking up bits and pieces of information,often fragmentary and scattered, the less his brain was workingas it once was trained to do. Before the web, he read linearly as the authorhad intended, going from beginning to end and looking for facts andideas, making connections, following plots, and assessing rationales.
Carr’s history as an intemet junkie goes back to 1995 and Netscape, thefirst web browser. A dozen years later he recognized that the internet hadcome to exert a strong and broad influence on both his professional habitsas a writer and his personal habits. He wanted information in quick, easychunks, the more the better. It was addictive, he says.And destructive.
Once Carr had enjoyed deep reading. He recalls getting caught upin an author’s prose and thinking about twists in plot lines. He wouldspend hour after hour immersed in a book. No more. Now, he says, hismind drifts after a page or two. He gets fidgety. Deep reading, he says,has become a struggle.
Even so, Carr acknowledges the wonders and efficiencies of the internet.As a writer he has immediate access to unprecedented stores of data.What once took hours in a library now takes seconds or a few minutes.But at what price? The internet, he says, has been chipping away at hiscapacity for concentration and contemplation. This worries him.
Carr cites friends who have experienced the same phenomenon.And there is research on brain function that supports his theory, although,as he concedes, much more research is needed.
No shortage of scholarship exists, however, about positive cognitiveaspects of internet use. Katherine Hayles, a postmodern literary scholar,seas less of a threat in the fragmented and nonlinear processes thatthe internet encourages. To be sure, Hayles says, this “hyperattention,”hopping around screens and hyperlinking, is far from the traditionalapproach of cloistering yourself off from the world to concentrate on awritten work. But as she sees it, switching through information streamsquickly and flexibly has its own value. Hayles calls for “new modesof cognition” that bridge traditional deep attention with internet-agehyperattention.
With the superficial engagement of theinternet we are losing our ability to paydeep attention. Thisdevaluation ofcontemplative thought, solitary thought.and concentration is a loss not only for usas individuals but also for our culture.
The risk of losing our culture and our abilities to reason are overblown. There are things that traditional linear and literary approaches can do that hyperattention cannot do. And vice versa.