Here we have the modern cultural critic at work: He doesn't just wag his finger -- he deconstructs himself at the same time! So, when I point out that this guy just another in a long line of whining moral scolds, he can claim that he understood that all along! He was just being ironic! Isn't hipster detachment fun -- even when the guy's wrong, he's right!
So, yeah, he's right: This is a steaming pile of Get Off My Lawn. The big clue is the part where he loses focus on the issue of focus (irony!) and starts teeing off on these kids today, who spend all their time on the internet gossiping with each other instead of reading improving books. Even the parodies of this line of argument are older than dirt: Before the Internet it was video games, reality television, cartoons, gangs, pop music, drugs, punk rock, hard rock, progressive rock, Jimi Hendrix, birth control pills, Elvis Presley, beatniks, Buddy Holly, swing dance, movie theaters, the wrong kind of books, jazz clubs, speakeasies, ragtime, billiard parlors, opium dens, all-night poker games, gangs...
Even the interesting part, the bit about distraction, is old news. Distraction is, indeed, one of the modern world's biggest sources of stress, unhappiness and poor productivity, but that is nothing new. This guy accurately notes that concern about information overload dates back to Thoreau's unhappiness with the telegraph and the newspaper -- and I'd bet the Zen Buddhists would be willing to argue it goes back even farther. You're telling me that the Internet is somehow even more pernicious and distracting than leaving the TV on all day, which has been going on for sixty years? That workers in the seventies didn't find wired telephones and intercoms and water coolers and newspapers and muzak distracting? (I guess Demarco and Lister are precogs -- they railed about this stuff in Peopleware before the Web even existed.)
And then, rather than talk about how to ameliorate the information overload problem, the guy throws up his hands and proclaims that we're doomed to a new Dark Age (!). Just as we have been since Thoreau. After all, what important things have happened since 1849?
Being a moral scold is easy work. Each year you write the same essay with a couple of words changed.
On the surface, it appears to be a more productive activity than watching television. It is more interactive, and it does require more skills to get going with it than television does. But once you get past that, it can still all too easily turn into a waste of time.
I agree that the web is more subtle, especially today, when the chrome has yet to wear off. But no medium is free from time-wasting. History is replete with people whose reading and writing was arguably "a waste of time". It's certainly replete with artists, musicians, and writers whose tendency to focus obsessively on their hobby was bad for their finances and their health. Ramanujan arguably worked himself to death with mathematics.
There's this myth in America that it's possible to work non-stop for 8 straight hours a day. Distractions maybe unhealthy and negatively impact productivity, but this statistic certainly does not demonstrate that.
'Tests clearly show that a switched-on television reduces the quality and quantity of interaction between children and their parents. The internet multiplies the effect a thousandfold.'
If you've got scientific evidence to back up your claims, please link to it. I'd like to know what the SI unit for parent/child interaction is.
I don't like the article much, but has anyone read the book he refers to?
Seriously though, I've been hearing similar messages for a while. It's a scary prospect, but I really think the solution is as easy as reading books.
An aside: I used to think that computers would increase literacy rates, as a typing/reading were prerequisites to internet use. But, seeing how many people spend their 'surf time' just watching videos on YouTube I'm starting to think otherwise.
The problem is that cultures change so rapidly. We have a hundred new mediums presenting themselves every decade, and each of us finds solitude in a different sort. It's natural for some people to prefer texting over literature, just as it's natural for some of us to shun the Internet entirely. I think the Internet gets this more than the literati do. We get that just because fewer people read books doesn't mean that there's a threat of books vanishing altogether. It means that the market gets smaller and more focused, and you get a much cozier reading community. I'd guess that of the students I was with in high school you could get a good 40% to write a decent essay if you needed one - and that's a high percentage, when you compare that with the percentage of people who need to be able to write decent essays in life.
Shakespeare couldn't spell his own name, from the fragments we have of his writing. He wasn't "literate" by the bar this article would like to set. He just came up with play ideas and figured out how to word things vocally. He created what we'd call great literature without the tools that we assume literature needs to get started.
As I said: the Internet gets it. The sci-fi literate get it, too: and no surprise, since the best science fiction writers today are on the truly cutting edge of literature. It's the conservative literati that still doesn't understand that literature changes with every decade, that what's true today might not be in 2010, and that that's not necessarily a bad thing.