How is the Internet Changing the Way You Think? Edited by John Brockman
One small keystroke for mankind
Sunday 12 February 2012
Prepare yourself for a hefty dose of future shock as we delve into the inner machinations of the internet and its implications for humankind.
This intriguing but flawed book is a collection of 150 essays answering the title's question. It's edited by John Brockman, the founder of Edge, a group of science and technology intellectuals who ask each other big questions about life, the universe and everything. Each year, Edge poses a question to its masses, and this year it's the internet's turn.
So what's the answer? Well, as you might expect from 150 top thinkers, opinions vary. The "you" in the question is important and deliberate, Brockman explains in the preface, as he sought more personal replies than generalised public pronouncements.
And to an extent he gets them. A considerable number of contributors express opinions along the same lines as the paleontologist Scott D Sampson, who succinctly puts it that "the internet is both the Great Source for information and the Great Distractor".
But does it change how you think? Well, in biological terms, it seems the answer is no, not yet. With respect to pure physiology, our brains are apparently still functioning just as they have done for millions of years, and it'll take rather more exposure to online poker to change that. But the internet is clearly changing what we think about, how we gather and use information and so on.
There's a lot of chat within these covers about a move from deeper thinking to more shallow brain activity, but the point is vociferously contested both ways by different experts. What is generally agreed upon is that this is an epochal time in humanity's development, one with profound implications for society and even identity.
Some of the most interesting pieces in the book are from anthropologists and the like, as opposed to computer scientists; experts who manage to place recent developments in the wider context of human evolution. The advent of the internet is seen by many here to be just as important as the development of primitive tools, speech and writing were in previous millennia. It is a point, for the most part, well argued. But that example also highlights one of the problems of this collection: it is inevitably very repetitive. The same points are made again and again by different writers, so that there is a real case of diminishing returns, the further you read. If I had a quid for every comparison to the Gutenberg press, well, it would keep me in online poker for quite a while.
Ultimately, this is a genuinely thought-provoking collection of writing on a subject the future of which is only very tentatively beginning to be spied through the fog. It is much like its subject matter to read, though: occasionally inspired, often frustrating, repetitive, conflicted, confused, self-important and just a little bit mind-boggling.
If you can drag yourself away from your computer for long enough ... then happy reading.
Art Piece taken off website amid 'severe security alert'
Maisie Williams single-handedly rises to the challengeTV
Academy criticised after no non-white actors nominated
tvAn expose of hooliganism masquerading as an ideological battle
artLee Hadwin can't draw when he's awake, but by night he's an artist
‘Remember the attackers are a cold-blooded, crazy minority’, says Blek le Rat
Arts & Ents blogs
- 1 Benedict Cumberbatch says Hollywood is better for black British actors: 'I think as far as coloured actors go it gets really difficult in the UK'
- 2 Man who held up 'hire me' sign at Waterloo station returns a year later with 'I'm hiring' sign
- 3 UK weather: Snow to fall in the coming week with sub-zero temperatures to last until early February
- 4 Saudi preacher who 'raped and tortured' his five -year-old daughter to death is released after paying 'blood money'
- 5 Warriors in ancient Iraq suffered Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder more than 3,000 years ago, say researchers
Heavy metal producer's corpse to be mutilated by models as per his dying wish
Mr Selfridge series 3: Actress Kara Tointon says 'We're starting to see his demise'
Benedict Cumberbatch says Hollywood is better for black British actors: 'I think as far as coloured actors go it gets really difficult in the UK'
Sia apologises for 'Elastic Heart' music video that sees Shia LaBeouf wrestle 12-year-old Maddie Ziegler
V&A removes depiction of Prophet Mohamed from website amid 'severe security alert'
Nigel Farage: NHS might have to be replaced by private health insurance
'We would evict Queen from Buckingham Palace and allocate her council house,' say Greens
French court convicts three over homophobic tweets, in case hailed as a 'significant victory' by LGBT rights campaigners
British Muslim school children suffering a backlash of abuse following Paris attacks
George Galloway condemns 'racist, Islamophobic, hypocritical rag' Charlie Hebdo at freedom of speech rally
Islamic history is full of free thinkers - but recent attempts to suppress critical thought are verging on the absurd