“When is the last time that you read a whole book?”
“Hm…… Let me see…… Hm…… Sorry. I cannot remember.”
This kind of situation is so true today. This world is feeding us with incredible amount of information every day. IPhone sends us push notifications just seconds after some event takes place. We seem to digest information well and we are happy to be more ‘knowledgeable’ with the help of modern technology. Hang on! Is this really the case?
How does this happen?
When we have questions, we seldom consult others or refer to a book. The most common way is to ‘Google’ it. Then you may get thousands of entries at your fingertips, some are useful while some are just rubbish (and you may not even be able to tell!). Having realized this situation, in 2008, the famous American writer Nicolas Carr questioned this situation in his article ‘Is Google Making Us Stupid?’ He argues that Internet plays a vital role in changing our cognition ability today. It seems that people are being more and more short focused and think with less and less depth. Following this, a lot of studies have been done on this subject.
(Left part is traditional thinking while Right part is the consequence of being interfered by the Internet)
Personally speaking, I think it is the way that human race evolves in order to adapt to external changes. For example, when it is getting cold, we put on clothes to keep our body warm. It is human nature. Similarly, when there is too much information, we would evolve again to adapt. We adjust ourselves to receive all kinds of information at a fast pace. By this, I am not judging whether it is a good evolution or not. Rather, it is just a bitter fact that we all have to face. There is no one to blame for this situation. It is not the fault of ordinary users, nor the ones who bring us Google, Wikipedia and so on.
However, things seem to go extreme now. Think about this, what is the last time that you read a whole blog post? Hm…… It seems that most of us cannot even do this! What we would do is that we read the beginning, interesting or not, we scroll down and read the ending. Then it would be marked as ‘read’ and ‘message received’. Having seen this trend, RenRen introduced its new feature earlier this year, called ‘RenRen Xiao Zhan’. ‘Xiao Zhan’ literally means little stations in Chinese. Launched in July, it is an extended site from RenRen main site and is described as ‘light blogging’. How ‘light’ is qualified to be a ‘light blog’? Well, in most popular ‘Xiao Zhan’s, most of the content is just pictures with occasionally a few lines.
(main interface of ‘RenRen Xiao Zhan’)
What can we do?
Having mentioned above, short focus and less depth of thinking are more like an intuitive adaption that we takes in order to live in the digital age. It may be described as a price that we must pay for embracing so much information every day.
So first of all, if we are to resolve the problem but still enjoying large volume of information, the very first step that we should take is to increase awareness about this issue. Clearly, if people are not even aware of the problem, they will not take any actions to make a change.
Following this, there seems to be no uniform solution that could be carried out for everyone. First of all, not all people view this as a problem. There are people who value the quantity and variety of ideas more important than quality and depth. Consequently, even being informed of such a problem, this group of people would not bother to change anything. Secondly, for people who do want to make a change, there are no compulsory or ‘guaranteed-to-work’ courses of actions that can help. If one does realize the existence of such a problem, he may probably cut off his Internet time deliberately or try to force himself to read a book.
What should we do for the YOUGHS?
The issue that I would like to bring up here is whether we should do anything to help the youths from being affected by such a problem. The word YOUTHS here refers to adolescents under 18 years old. In today’s society, Internet is so ubiquitous and children start to embrace the Internet much younger than we did, which poses more challenges on the issue here. If something is to be done to protect the youths, there certainly would be some censorship involved, such as monitor of their time on the Internet or censor the type of sites that they are visiting frequently.
(How today’s kids grow up)
The reason for ‘yes, we should do something’ is that they are still growing both physically and mentally. Unlike adults, they have not fully developed their own sense of values and thus they may lack of essential ability of judgement. In a word, they are more easily to be unconsciously affected by external environmental factors. The reason for ‘no, we should leave them alone’ is that they should be given their own right to choose their own life and should not be interfered.
This kind of question, or dilemma, has been heatedly debated during the lectures. From the youths’ point of view, fortunately I still remember my life at that age, they certainly want freedom. In fact, if they feel like being treated as a kid and not having enough rights, they would repel. From the parents’ point of view, I suppose most of them would be happy if their children can spend less time on the Internet and spend that time reading a book. Speaking for the whole society, it is very contradictory. It should be acknowledged that everyone should have equal rights to choose what they do and censorship violates one’s right. Meanwhile, sophisticated people are needed by the society. In order to make any progress, we would count on people with great minds, instead of those who think without enough depth.
Personally speaking, I value the latter part more than the former one. So I support the stand that something should be done in order to protect our youths. It could be done at a global level, such as campaigns to raise awareness, as well as at every family, in which parents come in and interfere.
In a nutshell, whether it is a progress or a regression that we are experiencing in this digital age seems to have no definite conclusion at this point of time. This is mainly because different people value different aspects of people, such as depth versus diversity. However, I argue that Internet is exerting a negative impact on our thinking and more importantly, there should be intervene to protect the youths from being affected.