Information has never been easier to get, but is it doing us any good? Futurist David Houle puts our national addiction to the Internet in historical context.
Recently, there's been a lot of discussion that asks whether our growing addiction to all things digital is making us dumber. Commentators—including President Barack Obama—have addressed how adults are increasingly suffering from digital distraction and losing the ability to focus for extended periods of time. They wonder out loud about what they see as a growing superficiality in the population and a hyperactive need to constantly be checking computers and handheld devices.
Parents express concern to me that their kids seem unable to quietly focus on one thing or that they can't seem to live without being constantly connected to their friends via ever-present digital devices. We all are beginning to wonder if there is some detrimental effect we have or will soon suffer.
I am not talking about the lunacy of texting while driving. Oprah has correctly led a high-profile effort to keep us all from this dangerous behavior. Would you read a book while driving? Would you be flipping through a magazine with the other hand on the wheel? Of course not! Texting while driving is the same thing, doing something other than completely focusing on the activity of driving a vehicle. That is not the subject of this column.
The Internet, the connectivity all our digital devices provide us and the ever increasing new ways to combine these forces is one of the most transformative events in the history of human communication. It has, is and will profoundly change our lives, individually and collectively. It is here to stay and will only increase in speed, magnitude and effect going forward. It is a force that can positively transform us in the coming decade. I will speak to this vision in future columns.
Every time there is a new, transforming technology, it always causes concern. When Gutenberg invented the movable type press in 1455, the decades that followed were full of consternation. What would reading do to the acquisition of knowledge? At that time, the common belief was that one could not learn unless one wrote things down and that reading would never become a way to learn. This position was propagated by the entrenched interests at the time—the scribes who wrote all the manuscripts.