Deep Thoughts For A Deep Well

by | Jan 12, 2010

How has the Internet changed the way you think? That’s a huge question for our time and it’s the question put in front on 167 world-class scientists, artists, and creative thinkers. Their range of answers is a deep well that one can dip into time and again, like a book of Shakespeare’s sonnets.

To get a taste for some of the thinking, please sample these small bits…

From Howard Rheingold:

Crap detection — Hemingway’s name for what digital librarians call credibility assessment — is another essential literacy. If all schoolchildren could learn one skill before they go online for the first time, I think it should be the ability to find the answer to any question and the skills necessary to determine whether the answer is accurate or not.

From Douglas Rushkoff:

The Internet pushes us all toward the immediate. The now. Every inquiry is to be answered right away, and every fact or idea is only as fresh as the time it takes to refresh a page.

And as a result, speaking for myself, the Internet makes me mean. Resentful. Short-fused. Reactionary.

From Kevin Kelly:

In fact the propensity of the Internet to diminish our attention is overrated. I do find that smaller and smaller bits of information can command the full attention of my over-educated mind.

From George Dyson:

We used to be kayak builders, collecting all available fragments of information to assemble the framework that kept us afloat. Now, we have to learn to become dugout-canoe builders, discarding unneccessary information to reveal the shape of knowledge hidden within.

From Paul Kedrosky:

If we know anything about knowledge, about innovation, and therefore about coming up with big deep thoughts, it is that it is cumulative, an accretive process of happening upon, connecting, and assembling, like an infinite erector set, not just a few pretty I-beams strewn about on a concrete floor.

From Paul Saffo:

Back in the mid-1700s, Samuel Johnson observed that there were two kinds of knowledge: that which you know, and that which you know where to get. The Internet has changed our thinking, but if it is to be a change for the better, we must add a third kind of knowledge to Johnson’s list — the knowledge of what matters. Knowing what matters is more than mere relevance. It is the skill of asking questions that have purpose, that lead to larger understandings.

From Clay Shirky:

This shock of inclusion, where professional media gives way to participation by two billion amateurs (a threshold we will cross this year) means that average quality of public thought has collapsed; when anyone can say anything any time, how could it not? If all that happens from this influx of amateurs is the destruction of existing models for producing high-quality material, we would be at the beginning of another Dark Ages.

So it falls to us to make sure that isn’t all that happens.

Of course, we all have our own essays to write.

I started using a computer to type up my college papers in 1983. But it wasn’t until 1995 that I started using email and even then, I used it sparingly. For me, 1997 was the year when the information revolution swept me up in its fast moving tide. Which means I’ve only been thinking inside this particular framework of networked machines for 13 years. Fundamentally, has it altered the way my brain works? I don’t know, but I do know my habits have changed radically. While I read fewer books now, my overall volume of reading and writing (and thinking) has increased dramatically. I now spend many hours almost every day reading, writing and thinking. I’d like to think that’s a good thing, although I’m keenly aware of the need for balance.