The effect of digital and web technologies on education and scholarship deeply interests me. While I am generally optimistic about the utility of these technologies for scholarship, including my own work, I remain cautious and keenly interested in finding solutions to some of the associated problems.
I recall a few years ago reading an article in the Atlantic entitled, “Is Google Making Us Stupid?” by Nicholas Carr. What I did not realize at that time was that a lively debate followed this article at the Britannica blog between significant writers on the topic, including an exchange between Clay Shirky and Carr. You can see a “table of contents” of sorts of the whole thing here. It is still very much worth a read.
A few excerpts, first from Shirky:
The change we are in the middle of isn’t minor and it isn’t optional, but nor are its contours set in stone. We are a long way from discovering and perfecting the net’s native forms, what Barthes called the ‘genius’ particular to a medium. To get there, we must find ways to focus amid new intellectual abundance, but this is not a new challenge. Once the printing press meant that there were more books than a person could read in a lifetime, scholars had to sharpen disciplines and publishers define genres, as a bulwark against the information overload of the 16th century. Society was better after that transition than before, even though it took two hundred years to get there.
And from Carr:
What the Net may be doing, I argue, is rewiring the neural circuitry of our brains in a way that diminishes our capacity for concentration, reflection, and contemplation. This, as Shirky admits, would not be the first time that our technologies have changed the way we think. The human mind was designed, through evolution, to be highly adaptable—for better, or for worse.
And from Michael Gorman:
The reactionary text Webster’s Third New International Dictionary defines the verb learn as “To gain knowledge and understanding of, or skill in, by study, instruction, or experience.” In the dark years B.G., “study” involved such interaction with complex texts and the outmoded concept of “literacy” involved a life-time of such interactions. How much more pleasant it is today when we flicker from one little glittering factoid to other shiny shards of information, all buried in a mound of dross heralded by the exciting words “results 1-10 of about 533,000,000.” Here’s richness! (to quote from one of those long, boring books we used to pretend to read B.G.)