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