Saturday, February 19, 2011

More on the internet.

Following up on my post the other week about the impact of technology on the human condition, Maureen Dowd has an excellent column up about the empathy-destroying powers of the internet. She quotes Nicholas Carr, author of The Shallows: What the Internet is Doing to Our Brains*:

“Researchers say that we need to be quiet and attentive if we want to tap into our deeper emotions. ... If we’re constantly interrupted and distracted, we kind of short-circuit our empathy. If you dampen empathy and you encourage the immediate expression of whatever is in your mind, you get a lot of nastiness that wouldn’t have occurred before.”
This is exactly what Wallace and Franzen talk about.** And untangling what is going on here is very important, I think; I'm quite disturbed by the sheer amount of cruelty people on the internet seem to delight in directing at each other. I'm always wondering, what are these people like in their every day lives? If I could confront them, and ask them point blank, in an honest desire to know -- dude, what the fuck?, what would they say? What is their level of consciousness about how mean and awful they are being? To what extent do they behave like this in real life, to actual people they see around them? Undoubtedly there are a lot of bitter, nasty people out there that the internet simply brings out the best in, so to speak. But then it seems the internet is also a lot like road rage -- for some people, being locked into this virtual world pushes the off button on a lot of suppressed ugliness that has not been fully dealt with. Or so it would appear.

Anyway, here is Wallace discussing another aspect of the same issue, particularly relevant from 2:10 on:

* I noticed Dowd does not italicize the title of the book in her article (but rather quotes it), although I checked, and indeed it is a book - is this something else the internet has done? Has the distinction between how to present an article or blog post title and how to present a book title also been obliterated?, and now I am merely being a fusty, quaint academic by insisting on the distinction?

** I know I keep bringing up Wallace and Franzen, and I look a little stuck on them. That is because I am. No point in denying that. I'll probably blog in the near future more extensively as to why I am so drawn to them at the moment.

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