Internet makes short spans

ReAnne Utemark

ReAnne Utemark

A couple of months ago, the Atlantic Monthly published an article titled, “Is Google Making Us Stupid?” If it is not making us stupid, it is surely shortening our attention spans and stunting something. As I am staring down the barrel of two papers to be written, I am beginning to wonder if it is true.

As I am not a neurologist, nor am I a psychologist, I cannot offer scientific theories behind this thought, but I did Google it. There seems to be an intellectual debate afoot about whether Google, and the Internet in general helps aging minds stay nimble or if it keeps people from committing to a long book or article.

You’ve probably stopped reading this after 100 words. It could be because I am boring, though.

As a frequent user of Google and most other Web sites, it is apparent that people want short, precise bits of information. This is helpful if you want to know the weather or the score of your favorite sports team. However, this is most unhelpful for news and novel writing.

Imagine if all news stories consisted of 160 words or less. What kind of information could one fit into those 160 words? Sure, a writer could fit the who, what, where, when and maybe why, but what about the so what? The so what is the impact of an article – what this news means for you.

Media critics and the public at large have bemoaned the advancement of the “Soundbite.” A soundbite is a sixty-second clip of a speech or a statement that tells one something without really telling them anything. The soundbite can be a politician’s best friend or worst enemy, and they unduly influence listeners and viewers. With the increasing shrink of attentions spans, the syndrome of the soundbite influence is only going to get worse.

I think that novels could also suffer. Consider if Edgar Allen Poe’s “The Raven” was written in a modern style. “Nevermore” is too advanced a word to use and its repetition would have no place, despite the effect it is used to produce on the narrator and the reader.

Nevermore, indeed.

I am not sure I could completely get through a classic novel without getting distracted by something. Perhaps we will devolve those novels into Cliff’s Notes and the Wishbone series for kids.

There is a plethora of information on the Internet. One could spend hours and hours per day trying to absorb it all and there are lots of people who try to do this. I am still not sure if Google and the Internet is making me stupid, but I am sure I can Wikipedia it.