The Digital Divide
ed. © 2011 Mark Bauerlein
For those who often think about the way the internet has transformed every aspect of our society — our daily social interactions, the ways we shop and work, etc — The Digital Divide presents an anthology of writing on that very subject ranging from the 1990s until 2011. These pieces include excerpts from books (Digital Natives or The Cult of the Amateur, for instance) as well as previously published articles. Nicholas Carr’s “Is Google Making Us Stupid?” appears in that category. The material curated here is chosen to represent different aspects of the argument about digital technology and society. A piece on how our immersion in the world of digital device multitasking rewires our brain to make us more efficient is followed by an article commenting on the negative aspects of a brain in perpetual overdrive: chronic, low-grade stress and general inefficiency from the constant breaks in attention. Many parts of the book are dated, but remain valuable nonetheless. For instance, articles penned in the 1990s lamenting how the invasion of the Internet by the common market had made it much more sterile and boring are interesting in the picture they paint of the young network, then a plaything of researchers and techies. (The author of that piece, Douglas Rushkoff, remains a “It’s popular and now it sucks” kind of fellow, snarling about the growth of e-commerce while simultaneously praising Yahoo and Blogger for allowing people to produce content and communicate with one another. This is especially amusing when he maintains — in the same article – -that the internet can’t be institutionalized…it has its own mind and people, like, do what they want with it, man. (Things like…buying and selling?) Other points are more enduring, like the the plasticity of the brain. By far the most interesting article in the book for me was a piece on Wikipedia founder Jimmy Wales, originally published in Reason magazine; in that interview, Wales reveals how inspired he was by the writings of F.A. Hayek, particularly on emergent order.