The Inanimate Controlling the Animate

“Some of them hated the mathematics that drove them, and some were afraid, and some worshiped the mathematics because it provided a refuge from thought and from feeling.”
    Grapes of Wrath by John Steinbeck

While the above quote speaks only about math, I believe it applies to a broader context of inanimate objects, that Steinbeck perhaps never could have even envisioned, that affect us daily, specifically the Internet.

Today, I read an article on CNN entitled “Is the internet making us quick but shallow?” (http://www.cnn.com/2010/TECH/web/06/07/carr.internet.overload/index.html), before I read the article and just judged the article by its title and scoffed. I figured it must have been written by some Luddite who bashed technology simply because he had nothing better to do. But when I actually read the article, I realized that much of it made sense. The article references a study done by Cornell researchers regarding laptop use during a lecture. While one batch was allowed to use a laptop during the lecture, the other was not. A test immediately after the lecture found that the laptop users performed much worse than the others.

And it doesn’t take a study to show that most of us (including myself) are almost addicted to computers, the Internet, iPods, and just about anything technological that catches our fancy. Often, a printer without ink or a power outage is a reason (read excuse) for not turning a paper on time. We depend upon the Internet for just about everything, from directions to communication, and with a power outage, much of our essential communication would be delayed.

And so, while reading this article, I had to agree with much of it, such as hyperlinks detracting from comprehension and being a distraction. But there was one part that I don’t think is necessarily right.

“Patricia Greenfield, a leading developmental psychologist who teaches at UCLA, warned in a 2009 Science article that a growing body of scientific evidence indicates that spending a lot of time with computers, smartphones, and other such devices weakens people’s ability to think deeply, critically, and creatively.”

Before I explain why I believe this is wrong, I must acknowledge that my personal opinions and experience do not necessarily mean that this statement is untrue. What may apply to me, may not apply to others.

That being said, I believe that the Internet, above all else, serves as an outlet for creativity and promotes deep and critical thought. Consider sites such as Youtube, one can find thousands of creative videos there. Or blogs, everyone, at some point or another, shares a creative idea or their conclusion upon something after deep thought (I’d like to think that I’ve done at least a little bit of both :). Even Facebook and other social networking sites can serve as a think tank as offhand remarks by others can spur a long chain of thoughts in someone else.

I think (and it is impossible to say for certain) without the Internet, creativity within the populace might be lower than it is today. Today, if someone has a “crazy” thought, they can immediately post it online for the world to see. And while, it may just be meant to bring a nice laugh it could quite possibly turn into something big because of the nature of the Internet. This idea can go around and find its way to say a venture capitalist and next thing you know, this idea has been materialized.

In the past however, these “crazy” ideas would probably quickly be mentally discarded, as communication was more expensive. If a phone call is costing money or a letter is taking too much time to write, people wouldn’t include their “crazy” ideas, as they would seem to be a waste of time. Whereas today, the thought would be online almost instantly as there is virtually nothing to lose.

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