Saturday, November 13, 2010

Three Tweets for the Web

Tyler Cowen, professor of economics, writes a superb essay in the Wilson Quarterly about the positive aspects of the Internet; he calls it a cultural transformation.

"It may seem as if we have entered a nightmarish attention-deficit culture, but the situation is not nearly as gloomy as you have been told. Our culture of the short bit is making human minds more rather than less powerful."

"The arrival of virtually every new cultural medium has been greeted with the charge that it truncates attention spans and represents the beginning of cultural collapse—the novel (in the 18th century), the comic book, rock ‘n’ roll, television, and now the Web. In fact, there has never been a golden age of all-wise, all-attentive readers. But that’s not to say that nothing has changed. The mass migration of intellectual activity from print to the Web has brought one important development: We have begun paying more attention to information. Overall, that’s a big plus for the new world order."

"It is easy to dismiss this cornucopia as information overload. We’ve all seen people scrolling with one hand through a BlackBerry while pecking out instant messages (IMs) on a laptop with the other and eyeing a television (I won’t say “watching”). But even though it is easy to see signs of overload in our busy lives, the reality is that most of us carefully regulate this massive inflow of information to create something uniquely suited to our particular interests and needs—a rich and highly personalized blend of cultural gleanings."

Far from disorder, he argues, there is coherence, literacy, and satisfaction there. (His essay is worth reading in its entirety.)

He concludes, "... we are better off for this change, a change that is filling our daily lives with beauty, suspense, and learning."

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