Hmmm... the weekend is upon us, and I'm feeling contemplative. Hence the "hmmm."
I've been reading a piece published in The New York Times Magazine, by Bill Keller, titled "The Twitter Trap," which essentially asks the question we love to ask about the Internet and technology: Is Twitter making us stoopit?
We see this question posed in various ways. Technology writer Nick Carr pressed Atlantic Monthly readers a few years back to wonder whether it was Google that was turning our brains into the intelligence equivalent of Slurpees.
Now Keller is putting Twitter on the stand, stating, "In a Twitter discussion, opinions and our tolerance for others' opinions are stunted. Whether or not Twitter makes you stupid, it certainly makes some smart people sound stupid."
The point, whether you agree with it or not, struck me as relevant to a point that our very own Mary Jander brought up on the message boards on Internet Evolution this week: "We should be asking why we're so happy with Tweets anyway. I think that's a question worth asking -- and there isn't a 140-character answer."
I'd love to hear your feelings on this, but mine is that we are a society, and perhaps a species, that takes readily to lower bars, that we are satisfied with ingesting (and egesting) less, in shorter, more shallow spurts. This is where the "wisdom" came from that 140 characters is enough to say just about anything. (If you repeat something enough, it almost starts to sound logical.)
Sure, Twitter has its benefits as a disseminator of information, but we can't disregard the consequences. As Keller writes:
I get that the Web reaches and engages a vast, global audience, that it invites participation and facilitates - up to a point - newsgathering. But before we succumb to digital idolatry, we should consider that innovation often comes at a price. And sometimes I wonder if the price is a piece of ourselves.
This is something I've often considered, and I think the answer is "yes," but it's a piece we've been losing, or chipping away at, for quite some time. For example, I'm fascinated by historical biographies largely because of the great deal of writing and creating that took place when it was necessary to record and document everything by hand in order to remember it and in order to learn from one another. And before that, people relied on the spoken word.
Before anyone gets hysterical, I'm not advocating a return to oral culture. Rather, I just think the Twitter love sonnets need to be balanced out with some thoughts about what's at stake. Part of what we may be losing is the ability, or even the need, to be articulate -- trading the willingness to think critically for the need to think fast, in short spasms, before it's on to the next thing.
To be sure, this short-form society is here to stay, but it's worth considering what we're losing by moving forward.
Nevertheless, there's a silver lining: Eventually, the people who remember a time when we were all smarter, on our own, without relying on technology and small bites of information, won't be around anymore to remind the new generation that they're meeting a much lower bar.
Here's to the future!