The Sky is Falling?: The Inevitable Losses of the Digital Age

I have a lot of sympathy with Carr’s ideas in “Is Google Making Us Stupid?” Even as young as I am (22), I have seen my attention span shorten every year since the beginning of my teenage years. At the age of 15, I could read for nearly three uninterrupted hours. Now, even when I read for pleasure, I have to take a break at least every hour; the time is even less when I find a piece of writing less than riveting. The culprit? Probably my iPhone. Every five-minute wait, every ten-minute break, every short walk to class is occupied with checking email, skimming Facebook, listening to music, or being entertained by my phone in some way. As a result, both my attention span and my powers of concentration have diminished.

This is, without question, an infinite loss, but also probably an inevitable one. Should I give up the internet and my smartphone so that I can keep my ability to concentrate deeply for longer periods of time? Maybe. Am I going to? No. Is anyone going to? No. At this point, it would be more than impractical. But it’s also somewhat impractical to bemoan this loss (too much). Yes, the technological advances of the 21st century do involve some loss, maybe even great loss. But, as Carr points out, so did the spread of writing and the advent of the printing press. Though we can’t predict our own intellectual futures in the face of the vast network of information now available to us, I think we can be fairly confident that it’s at least not the end of human thought and development.

I do share Carr’s legitimate concerns about our diminishing ability to think deeply about all the information that we have access to. But I imagine that those who seek intellectual stimulation and growth will be able to find it through nearly any medium and those who don’t wouldn’t have found it anyway. At least, I hope that those of us who value deep thinking will not lose that ability, easily distracted though we may be.