Surfing the Internet has become an increasingly popular activity all over the world. And as the Internet has become increasingly portable – first through laptops and then through smartphones and tablets, it means that one can engage in this activity almost anywhere one goes. But according to a recent article in the Washington Post by Michael Rosenwald on April 6, such accessibility has come with a hidden unforeseen cost. As our brains become reconfigured to quickly scan endless quantities of data, we are losing our capacity to sustain our focus for reading books. It seems that we are constantly looking for key words and key phrases and feeling a desire to skip around, just as we do with short Internet passages.
This by itself is cause for alarm. It means we are losing our capacity to read complex sentences and follow complex narratives and complex lines of thought. Our minds are geared to lots of free-floating figures in the form of data and are becoming incapable of grounding themselves in a coherent body of images, thoughts, and ideas. We are increasingly only capable of absorbing defined discrete stimuli that come from our machines and our technological environments, and we are becoming incapable of absorbing the organic flowing blendable continual stimuli that are the result of more grounded natural environments. Yet books are important repositories of the ideational content of human civilization. Without our being connected properly to books, we lose an important component of what has made us human, since the printing press made books available to large numbers of people.
Michael Rosenwald is optimist that humans can train themselves to be biliterate – equally capable of absorbing computer data and the coherent content of books. I am not so sure. When I was studying classical and flamenco guitar, my teacher explained to me that each of these styles required very distinct muscle development in the fingers of the right hand. To be good at classical meant developing muscles that impeded agility in flamenco and vice versa. They were not compatible with one another. In my opinion, the same is true for Internet scanning and book reading. They are incompatible styles for absorbing written material. And the more we become configured for Internet scanning, the more we lose an important essential part of our human capacities.
Actually what we lose goes beyond our style of reading. The reconfiguring of our brain for Internet scanning actually extends its influence into other areas of life as well. Internet scanning predisposes us to shallow-bonded connections of all sorts with the world. We search out those phenomena in the world that are most like computer data – free-floating figures surrounded by a vacuum. It means shallow-bonded connections in work, where employer and employee agree to relatively short-term contracts of commitment. Reconfigured brain development leads to an enormous influence on the way we have sexual experiences today within the customary behavior of hooking up with someone. In previous articles, I have discussed how people since the beginning of the sexual revolution in the 1960’s have used sexual experiences with a series of bodies as a vehicle for getting the variety of sensation that was formerly obtainable living in more traditional organic living environments. In other words, a number of different sexual bodies acted as a substitute for living close to a forest, a mountain, a jungle, or a desert and living in a quaint village or town with quaint textured sculptural architecture.
The computer has added another element to this equation. By becoming configured to only be able to absorb, on one level, the discrete stimuli from the free-floating figures of data, yet still in need, on another level, of the grounded organic stimuli of nature and natural phenomena, our computerized minds translate the flowing blendable organic continual stimuli of a sexual body and a sexual experience into the defined momentary discrete stimulus of a computer datum. You hook up with another person for a moment, satisfy yourself in the relatively fleeting moment and then separate. The new computerized way of thinking acts as a mold for absorbing something as apparently different from a datum as a sexual experience. The sexual experience is completed and then the person is back in an emotional vacuum again, free of commitments. The connection is a shallow-bonded clip-on connection between two highly figurized people who are increasingly incapable of grounded deep-bonded relationships.
In truth, Internet surfing teaches us an approach to living that involves our constantly scanning life while making few deep-bonded grounded connections to anyone and anything. Through Internet surfing, we learn how to obtain fast shallow ingestions of stimuli from all aspects of daily life. In other words, we start living a MacLife situation. And just like too much fast food is harmful for your physical health, so too much fast shallow life stimuli can be harmful for your mental health.
We could say that Internet surfing is profoundly interfering with the most fundamental way we have had traditionally to connect to the world by making, preserving and receiving organic imprints. We make and receive fast shallow markings that don’t stimulate us to life very much in a way that we can properly absorb. Nor are these markings easily preservable in our lives or in the lives of the people around us. We are impeded in our needs to feel fully alive and to prepare for death through the surrogate immortality of preserved organic imprints.
Now obviously there is some writing based on deep thinking on the Internet. Writing for which one mentally has to slow down in order to obtain any benefit from it. The concern is that a lot of time spent surfing the net can affect our capacity to properly absorb these deeper articles.
The solution is simple. Or maybe not so simple. One has to stop playing the game of searching the Internet with no serious purpose in mind. One has to break one’s addiction to the Internet. It’s going to be difficult just like withdrawing from addictions to alcohol, drugs or gambling. But life will become so much more rich and vibrant and meaningful. This includes love and work and relationships of all kinds. Very simply, life will be so much more full of life.
(c) 2014 Laurence Mesirow