“Shall we accept the change that caused by the Internet?” vs “Shall we accept that the change is caused by ourselves?”

I have a lot to say about this week’s topic, “Attention and multi-tasking”. Frankly, I’ve got lost in the reading obstacle for a long time. I used to be a book reader, either lecture books or literature books. When I was in undergrad college, I often went to the library and read. I was once honored as the top reader of the library who borrowed the most books to read. Now, I’d bet that I would not be in the library for more than ten times for reading. Having easy access to the Internet makes us more dependent on the knowledge provided by the Internet and less dependent on the thinking by our own mind. This is sadly true.

Last week, something went wrong with the net cable in my office. I was very upset about not being able to connect to the Internet. Though actually on that day I could do part of my work that was not related to the Internet. But I just couldn’t calm down and focus on it. Getting used to working with the Internet, I’m easily uncomfortable without the Internet. However, this also causes me easily distracted from work. It’s very disappointing as I clearly see myself changing because of the Internet. Before I read Nicholas Carr’s essay “Is Google Making Us Stupid?”, I though it was totally my own change and fault. Realizing that there are many people struggle about the distraction caused by the Internet, I am lost in thought, in real thought.

Recently, I’m reading a book “Sapiens: A Brief History of Humankind” by Yuval Noah Harari. In this book, Harari proposed his thoughts of how did Homo Sapiens evolve from an unexceptional savannah-dwelling primate to become the dominant force on the planet, emerging as the lone survivor out of six distinct, competing hominid species? One of his ideas is really striking to me. He wrote that “because our talent for gossip allows us to build networks in societies too large for personal relationships between everyone, and our imagined realities – such as religion, money, governments, companies, laws and institutes – keep us in line.” I’d say, it is still how we connect with each other in the current century – through gossip and gossip.

The Internet makes us easily gossip with each other, and the anecdotal stories, news, and other information on the Internet provide us with enormous things to gossip. Too many online temptations distract us from concentrating on what we should do if have to do via the Internet. People are social beings in words that people tend to talk with each other about things they find funny, interesting or astonishing. Also, considering the easy access to information online, more and more people tend to surf online so as to keep in line with others around themselves – to know what others know. It is, in fact, a cycle of stimulus. People are eager to find more interesting (either positive or negative) things online and easy to be attracted by things with gimmicky titles. With more and more clicks on these hyperlinks, search engines (Google, Yahoo, etc.) are (re-)programmed to provide more and more information of these types.

This comes to a question. Is it really that the Internet changes our behavior of thinking (reading) or it is ourselves that change how the Internet deliver information to us?

We create the Internet and the Internet creates us. We change the Internet and the Internet changes us. If we want to enjoy all the benefits that the Internet has made to us, we have to endure all the costs as well. No doubt, those who know how to use the Internet will benefit more. Those who are subdued by the Internet will suffer more. There is no one-for-all answer that can determine how the Internet affects us. However, I always believe that education is an effective tool to guide people (from the very beginning of life) to understand and balance the complex relationship of human and the Internet.



Nicholas Carr; Is Google Making Us Stupid? and the comments (2008)

Yuval Noah Harari, Sapiens: A Brief History of Humankind (2015)


7 thoughts on ““Shall we accept the change that caused by the Internet?” vs “Shall we accept that the change is caused by ourselves?”

  1. Hi Xin,

    I really enjoyed reading your blog post. I can relate to everything you said about internet-dependency, lack of focus, and the struggle to find balance between staying connected to the internet to read vs reading a real book or simply being present in one’s own day. Technology has offered us great gifts and powers, but with that, we must learn how to cope with those negative consequences. Sometimes I find myself thinking about this issue and then I feel guilty for being so plugged-in all the time. I try and keep my internet time during business hours; but because of social media, I find myself on the internet in the evenings a lot sharing pictures and talking with friends and family. Thanks for bringing up this topic. I appreciate your perspective! It was a nice little wake-up call for me.

    Liked by 2 people

  2. I like how you bring up the interplay between humans and technology. We do give power in some ways to gadgets and the internet etc. But because everyone is so involved with it even if I want to I cannot step away from it, right?! It is however in our control how much power we want to give this trend.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. This is such an important angle, Xin. Thank you for this discussion. I also read Sapiens with great enthusiasm and attention. While I don’t agree with all of his argument, I think he has important insights about why humans have been so successful as a species. I’m eager to read his next book, Homo Deus (http://www.ynharari.com/book/homo-deus/) — as soon as summer gets here! Let me know what you think if you end up reading it as well.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thanks for your comment, dear Dr.Nelson. Yes, I agree that Harari gave us a very insightful way to think about the evolution and success of humans. I’d like to discuss with you more when I finish the reading.


      1. Please do! I’m especially interested in his argument about agriculture as being a Faustian bargain where we traded quality of life (and low population density) for a lower quality of life (for most people) and higher population density.


  4. I thought I knew where you were going in this post, Xin–that we choose to change ourselves by spending time online and that we can choose to change ourselves in the opposite way by spending time offline. What a surprise to read what you actually meant! I had not thought of the ways that we shape the internet by our search behaviors or Harari’s idea of the importance of gossip in the rise of our species. Very interesting ideas. Thank you!

    Liked by 1 person

  5. I completely understand your dilemma here. I get so annoyed when I don’t have internet access, and need to look something up for a paper or project I am working on. Although the internet makes work so much more convenient, I wish I weren’t so dependent on it for everything I do.

    Liked by 1 person

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