The Impact of the Internet . . . Again

From time to time here we’ve added to your information on information overload, a problem that seems particularly to bedevil lawyers — but then, when time is money, attention is costly and, so, to be jealously guarded. (One “pays attention,” after all.) Too, lawyers are by a professional deformation attached to the old ways, and therefore it may happen that their stare decisis becomes a stare inventiis. But lawyers aren’t the only ones, of course, who shake their heads (briskly) at all this newfangled twittering away of our lives; and some worriers step back a metaphorical league or two and see an alarming big picture.

Frank Shirrmacher is one such. He’s a noted German journalist, book author and co-publisher of the not inconsiderable newspaper Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung. Edge recently interviewed Shirrmacher and produced a video (and a transcription) of that interview under the title “The Age of the Informavore.” One effect he sees the internet causing is that:

. . . thinking itself somehow leaves the brain and uses a platform outside of the human body. And that’s the Internet and it’s the cloud. And very soon we will have the brain in the cloud. And this raises the question of the importance of thoughts. For centuries, what was important for me was decided in my brain. But now, apparently, it will be decided somewhere else.

I have to say that his ideas are not put forward as essentially pessimistic — they attempt to identify novelty in ways of thinking and speculate a little about their impact. Yet, I think, there’s a wistfulness there that’s perhaps inevitable in a person of his (my) age.

Edge, as it usually does, enlisted half a dozen commentators to respond to Shirrmacher’s thoughts. My favourite response is by Steven Pinker, the Harvard psychologist. He asks:

I would suggest another way to look at the effects of technology on our collective intelligence. Take the intellectual values that are timeless and indisputable: objectivity, truth, factual discovery, soundness of argument, insight, explanatory depth, openness to challenging ideas, scrutiny of received dogma, overturning of myth and superstition. Now ask, are new technologies enhancing or undermining those values? And as you answer, take care to judge the old and new eras objectively, rather than giving a free pass to whatever you got used to when you were in your 20s.

It’s a debate worth reading, and it’s online. For when you have take the time.

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