I still love books. Nothing a computer can do can compare to a book. You can’t really put a book on the Internet. Three companies have offered to put books by me on the Net, and I said, ‘If you can make something that has a nice jacket, nice paper with that nice smell, then we’ll talk.’ All the computer can give you is a manuscript. People don’t want to read manuscripts. They want to read books. Books smell good. They look good. You can press it to your bosom. You can carry it in your pocket.
Every good writer I know needs to go into some deep, quiet place to do work that is fully imagined. And what the Internet brings is lots of vulgar data. It is the antithesis of the imagination. It leaves nothing to the imagination.
[Oh, the irony]
Recently I’ve heard that the internet has caused an increasing dulling of the human intellect. In other words, the ability to reason, to think, to reflect, is lost via the internet. All one need do is merely Google a topic and the first three or four listings will give one everything they need to know about the topic.
Well, as for the last statement, I disagree. Google listings do not necessarily give one a reasonable amount of information (or answers as the case may be) to any given topic. Reflection is necessary. Research is necessary. Those of us who read books (not just fiction, but non-fiction too) should realize this. My generation was the last generation to be raised without home PCs, without the internet, without mechanical gadgets that help us “think.” All these things didn’t exist. When we wanted to learn about new information, or take in new knowledge we had to go to the library, or bookstore. Not today. Today all one has to do is turn on the computer and see all the quips, short quotes, instant information, etc. Tumblr is notorious for this format.
However, I’m a bit confused about why certain scholars think the internet is an anti-intellectual tool. I can agree that too often people might tend to try and find quick answers to difficult questions; questions that can only be answered with hours, if not days of reflection. But, the internet, in my estimation, is like any other tool. It is meant to be used for specific things. Can it provide new knowledge and/or new information? I think it can. In reality, I think the reason certain individuals do not take the time to reflect on difficult questions is two-fold. First, difficult questions are, well, difficult. They take work and time to answer. And even then, how can one be certain one has found the correct answer? Who has time to put forth such great effort to try and answer tough questions, and are they even worth answering? Second, many people lack discipline. It takes effort and discipline to reflect, to quiet oneself and think. It takes effort to read, especially complicated non-fiction (e.g. philosophy, history, etc.). Why read a long book when you can get a condensed answer in a brief article or blog post?
I’m not so certain (yet) that the internet is an anti-intellectual tool. Rather, I think that anti-intellectuals use it to provide quick answers to tough questions. Therefore, it’s the anti-intellectual who causes the internet to seem anti-intellectual. Perhaps T.S. Eliot said it best in his 1934 work titled Choruses from the Rock:
Where is the Life we have lost in living?
Where is the wisdom we have lost in knowledge?
Where is the knowledge we have lost in information?