How is the Internet Changing the Way You Think? Edited by John Brockman

One small keystroke for mankind

Doug Johnstone
Sunday 12 February 2012 01:00
Comments

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.

Register for free to continue reading

Registration is a free and easy way to support our truly independent journalism

By registering, you will also enjoy limited access to Premium articles, exclusive newsletters, commenting, and virtual events with our leading journalists

Please enter a valid email
Please enter a valid email
Must be at least 6 characters, include an upper and lower case character and a number
Must be at least 6 characters, include an upper and lower case character and a number
Must be at least 6 characters, include an upper and lower case character and a number
Please enter your first name
Special characters aren’t allowed
Please enter a name between 1 and 40 characters
Please enter your last name
Special characters aren’t allowed
Please enter a name between 1 and 40 characters
You must be over 18 years old to register
You must be over 18 years old to register
Opt-out-policy
You can opt-out at any time by signing in to your account to manage your preferences. Each email has a link to unsubscribe.

By clicking ‘Create my account’ you confirm that your data has been entered correctly and you have read and agree to our Terms of use, Cookie policy and Privacy notice.

This site is protected by reCAPTCHA and the Google Privacy policy and Terms of service apply.

Already have an account? sign in

By clicking ‘Register’ you confirm that your data has been entered correctly and you have read and agree to our Terms of use, Cookie policy and Privacy notice.

This site is protected by reCAPTCHA and the Google Privacy policy and Terms of service apply.

Register for free to continue reading

Registration is a free and easy way to support our truly independent journalism

By registering, you will also enjoy limited access to Premium articles, exclusive newsletters, commenting, and virtual events with our leading journalists

Already have an account? sign in

By clicking ‘Register’ you confirm that your data has been entered correctly and you have read and agree to our Terms of use, Cookie policy and Privacy notice.

This site is protected by reCAPTCHA and the Google Privacy policy and Terms of service apply.

Join our new commenting forum

Join thought-provoking conversations, follow other Independent readers and see their replies

Comments

Thank you for registering

Please refresh the page or navigate to another page on the site to be automatically logged inPlease refresh your browser to be logged in