Monday, March 29, 2010

Some thoughts on the Age of Information.

Often I'm startled at how sophisticated young people are--especially those very early in their twenties. When critics rail against the Internet as the dumbing of America, I think they are both right and wrong in their assessment.

They are wrong in that the social aspect of the Internet actually encourages faster mental development. Because children are communicating earlier and more often than ever before, their minds are developing faster. Chats, forums, facebook--these facilitate mental development because they require children to communicate, to think, to be mentally engaged. Reading alone does not lead to greater mental sophistication; writing and communicating, the actual process of thinking, stretching the mind, that is where mental development happens. Of course, those who read have more to draw from, a richer, more fertile mind, than those who do not read very much.

One thing to note is that early exposure to the Internet helps to explain why most young people have good spelling and grammar: we are becoming more of a text-based culture, where entire friendships exist only online and via texts.

The critics are right in that while the Internet has allowed for a wider class of sophisticated and intelligent young people, it goes no further. The Internet fosters no great profundity. This must be done through intense personal study, through long and consistent hours of reflection, through writing and articulating the thoughts, and most important, through deep and habitual reading. The Internet discourages most of these, where spending more than a few minutes on a webpage is rare.

At its best, the Age of Information has resulted in a greater mass of intelligent young people; at its worst it has discouraged profound learning. Do young people read great sprawling works of literature anymore for personal pleasure and mental enrichment?

Finally, what comes after the Age of the Information? The Age of Even More Information? Cortical shunts? Bradbury wrote a story--I forget the title--in which a group of human explorers encounter a species that had evolved to the point that corporeal concerns were irrelevant. Through the passing of untold millennia they had become spherical blobs that communicated telepathically. What they lived off of I can only speculate. Perhaps they subsisted on photons. However the case, that is true self actualization.


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