I read an interesting article recently from the Atlantic called, “Is Google Making Us Stupid?” It’s located here and the basic premise is that the convenience of Google as a means for retrieving information has radically altered out ability to think. Instead of being forced to do more arduous forms of research involving reading long articles and looking for coherent trains of thought, everyone now does Google searches and then skims everything they find. The modern person has essentially lost the ability to keep up with a long, sustained, coherent train of thought.
I think I’d agree that we as a generation have a much shorter attention span than the one before us; this works to our advantage on the internet, where speed is everything when it comes to information (or so we’re told), but works to our detriment basically everywhere else. Logic doesn’t work with us anymore when trying to persuade, mostly because we let our stray thoughts and emotions interrupt essentially interrupt ourselves. Thoughts like, “hey, I wonder who won the game last night,” or “what was that one actor’s name again,” or “who the heck is John James Audobon anyway,” lead to an immediate and convenient attention breaker.
Even on those who consider themselves logical and who think they can carry a logical argument for several steps, it is difficult to break through to any level of real persuasion, mostly because most people have no grid for whether anything is true anymore. if you can find it on a google search or on wikipedia, it must apparently be true. Or not. Which is precisely the problem; most people I have met who pride themselves on their logic and reasoning tend to come out to the conclusion that you can never know what is true, even though they try to devour as much information as they possibly can. Instead of having balanced, coherent people who are able to reason on an honest, emotional level, there are now large numbers of detached trivia gurus who seem to know what they’re talking about but are themselves never sure 1) if what they’re saying is really true, or 2) what they really think anyway.
Another trend I have heard about that has arisen from the internet is the sudden drop in face-to-face interaction since the advent of AIM/GChat/Facebook and the entire online social network. While their appearance on the modern social scene was a good addition at first, their long term effects on our society could possibly be one of the most relationally robbing developments ever. This is most prominent in college students; much of my thinking on this was influenced by an interview with a college chaplain located here. A snippet I love from him is that we are easily the most socially connected generation ever, and yet there is still a real hunger for relationships (both platonic and romantic) on the college campus.
We spend more time with one another in text boxes than we do face-to-face, and this leads to problems. I have seen this largely affect my own life.
I have a problem, for example, with mumbling from time to time when I’m trying to say something that I’m not sure the person I’m facing will like to hear. For some reason, I’m hard wired to think that, as long as I say the words the other person will understand, even if they are drowned out by background noise. Obviously that is not the case; the words need to be audible. I never had enough face-to-face interaction growing up to actually mitigate this problem; I spent most of my time with my friends not with them at all, but on AIM with them.
This is a mild case. Things like mumbling, eye contact, general friendliness, all of these things are small concessions that might even be culturally acceptable, if irritating. Far more sinister, however, are inabilities to interact in conflict resolution, honest confession, sound conversation.
What I mean is this: Our generation is the Web 2.0 generation, and we know it. If we don’t like something about someone, we don’t need to voice it to them. We can just blog about it. Instead of working through issues and dealing with differences and annoyances, we can remain entirely socially accessible and yet remove people entirely from our lives. In some cases, this might be a necessary and good thing, but in the majority case, we are building a culture that doesn’t know what a relationship looks like.
Friendships are hindered. Marriages will be hindered. The church of God will be hindered in loving one another. All the while we sit idly by, chatting and isolating ourselves until all of a sudden, our personality is but a shadow of that which we used to be.
Well I, for one, intend on fighting this in myself. I don’t want to be someone who hides behind the internet. I want to be real. I’m not sure if I have been, and I’m not sure how long it’s going to take, but I will not succumb to my selfish, narcissistic tendency in this area. I’ve done a terrible job so far. I don’t care. I will fight it.
Ironic that this declaration should come in the form of a blog. Know this, all who are reading, that I intend on being your friend.