Serving the campus of the University of Alabama since 1894

The Crimson White

Serving the campus of the University of Alabama since 1894

The Crimson White

Serving the campus of the University of Alabama since 1894

The Crimson White

The Internet diminishes deep thought

Imagine a time when one of humanity’s innovations takes over. Society eagerly embraces the invention, even praises its creator for improving their lives. People adopt new habits without hesitation and thank the new device for the simplicity and comfort it affords them.

Anyone who questions the validity of the tool is labeled as backwards or reactionary, and any concerns they voice are tossed aside. Before long, the invention controls how people spend their time, relate to other humans and even how people think.

There must be an enlightened group who refuse to be controlled by the device, you say. Surely we, students, would examine something that began to control us, right?

Sadly, students are the most affected victims.

This thing that has reshaped culture, thought processes and social interactions is the Internet.

The Internet enables us to keep in touch with friends we would otherwise be separated from by physical distance. The Internet allows us to research more thoroughly, organize more quickly and interact with more diverse groups of people. Who has paused to consider what the Internet has taken away?

Nicholas Carr explored the effects of the Internet in his book “The Shallows.” Among several disturbing implications: our ability to sustain prolonged thought and deep concentration is being erased as we use the Internet. “Calm, focused, undistracted, the linear mind is being pushed aside by a new kind of mind that wants and needs to take in and dole out information in short, disjointed, often overlapping bursts – the faster, the better,” Carr writes.

In “The Shallows,” Carr references scientific research that shows the human brain is highly malleable, and this plasticity enables us to adopt different ways of thinking, while old and unused ones are discarded.

As people increasingly rely on the Internet for their information, they begin to expect information at fast speeds and in comparable formats. Think about the last time you read an entire article word for word or a book cover to cover. Did you struggle through some of it, perhaps skim over a page or two?

Of course, some people unplug. They leave their cell phones on silent and they read a book. But as educators and employers place everything online, the ability to train oneself to concentrate may become obsolete. The temptation of hyperlinked text and multiple windows consumes us.

Perhaps losing the capacity to contemplate or read in an ordered manner doesn’t bother you, but what about the Internet’s impact on social interactions?

If you arrive early for class, glance around the room. I suspect many of your peers will be texting or on Facebook or Twitter.

The desire to post online is contagious, but as we use these mediums for social purposes, “our social standing is in one way or another, always in play, always at risk,” according to Carr. He writes, “The resulting self-consciousness – even, at times, fear – magnifies the intensity of our involvement with the medium… if [we] stop sending messages, [we] risk becoming invisible.”

The result: people sit anxiously wondering if they’ve missed out on something during the hour they spent in class. The instant the professor stops speaking, they reach for connectivity, aka their smart phone. Our obsession propels others to conform.

If you walk into a classroom and everyone is on their phone, you instinctually whip yours out and start typing away. Never mind that such behavior eliminates communication with everyone in the room.

When people isolate themselves with ear buds, cell phones and computers, it as if all the humanity has been sucked out of the room. The people morph into mere extensions of their gadgets. Soon everyone reaches for their device to keep them distracted until class begins.

Here’s the problem: the urge to connect continues, but we have trained ourselves to associate connectivity with online presence and text messaging. It distracts us from engaging fully, it encourages us to multitask in conversations with friends and to ignore social etiquette.

At any given table in a restaurant, inevitably at least one person at the table is signing onto their email account or texting other people. How meaningful and deep can such scatterbrained conversations be? Does anyone or anything merit undivided attention these days?

More to Discover