As I read the first article, Nicolas Carr’s “Is Google Making us Stupid,” my mind started to wander. I fought the urge to click on the Facebook tab at the top of the screen and scroll through countless statuses I don’t care about posted by people I don’t talk to while I read through this article that, compared to the brief articles that Facebook leads me to, seemed to go on forever. My mind kept flashing back to the other short pieces I had read in the past week, pieces with attention-grabbing titles like “I Tried Granny Panties for a Week, and Here’s Why I Loved Them,” pieces that had taken only minutes to consume and had left shallow impressions on my mind like footprints that would soon be washed away by the rain. I hate these articles with their titles of undisguised bait, and yet I can’t resist clicking on them.
I am an English major. I love books. Long books. I love getting lost in the characters, in the storylines, in the language that both takes me out of my own head and puts words to emotions that I’ve felt but never been able to identify. I love the depth of longer books, but it seems that the Internet is physically changing my brain so that articles even a few pages long struggle to hold my attention. I resent this, and yet I also can’t seem to cut myself off from the world of social media. Now that this endless stream of information has been unleashed, it seems almost impossible to go back to the “quiet spaces” of contemplation that Carr mentions.
Carr claims, “If we lose these quiet spaces, or fill them up with ‘content,’ we will sacrifice something important not only in ourselves but in our culture.” He’s right. Recently I read part of a book written by W.E.B. Du Bois. His story “Coming of John” tells the tale of a black man named John who at first is joyful and ignorant, but then gets an education and questions everything he learns. He ponders the solar system and why words mean what they mean. He begins to notice the oppression around him. He uses “quiet spaces” to learn and grow, to develop his own ideas, and while the story has anything but a traditional happy ending, John firmly states that he would not take back what he has learned. Both John’s character himself and my reading of the story (which, although not incredibly long, is longer than most articles we choose to read on the Internet) show the value of “quiet spaces.” I came away from the story with a deeper understanding of a different perspective, and it felt like eating a fulfilling chicken dinner after constantly binging on nothing but junk food.
The Internet has immense potential to spread beneficial ideas, but I’m terrified it will continue to change not only my brain but also the brains of all following generations into machines that always crave the next stimulation. I fear a society that is bored by “quiet spaces.”