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End of rational thought?

From today's Minneapolis Star-Tribune opinion page, A modern-day Gutenburg by Neal Gabler (Read the whole piece. It's pretty good.): making his "social inbox" announcement, Zuckerberg introduced seven principles that he said were the basis of communication 2.0. Messages have to be seamless, informal, immediate, personal, simple, minimal and short. ...

You could call this a metaphor for modern life, increasingly narcissistic and trivial, except that the sites and the posts are modern life for hundreds of millions of people. ...

The more we text and Twitter and "friend," abiding by the haiku-like demands of social networking*, the less likely we are to have the habit of mind to form, or the means to express, interesting and complex ideas.

Now wait. Haven't I hear this before?

Back in 2005, Professor Naomi Baron in a Los Angles Times opinion piece “Killing the written word by snippets” bemoaned:

Will effortless random access [to snippets of books made available through Google Book Search] erode our collective respect for writing as a logical, linear process? Such respect matters because it undergirds modern education, which is premised on thought, evidence and analysis rather than memorization and dogma. Reading successive pages and chapters teaches us how to follow a sustained line of reasoning.

Alexander Pope wrote:

A little learning is a dang’rous thing;
Drink deep, or taste not the Pierian spring:
There shallow draughts intoxicate the brain,
And drinking largely sobers us again.

The sentiment below is from Phaedrus – in which Plato is quoting Socrates in 500 B.C. Greece.

[It] destroys memory [and] weakens the mind, relieving it of…work that makes it strong. [It] is an inhuman thing.

Oh, the "it" is writing.

Like Nicholas [The Shallows} Carr, I've found myself less able not just to stay with longer pieces of non-fiction, but find it difficult to build up the motivation and discipline to write them as well.

But like those who exercise, the disciplined will still find the will to tackle more demanding reading and writing tasks and engage in complex ideas and thinking.

I just worry about what percentage of the population that will be.

* Anybody catch the piece on Sarah Palin's tweets on Jon Stewart this week?

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Reader Comments (5)

But... the sky is falling, Doug! Don't ruin that for me!

December 6, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterClint Buhs

I think I can see it coming out in myself when I'm using my Reader..."boy this is a long post...time to move on." My wife's principal's welcome back to school letter this fall focused on the Nicholas Carr book. I think both modes of communication/interaction are appropriate considering the context. If I'm stuck at the mall Christmas shopping during the Packer game, I just need a score check every now and then. If I'm doing professional work or feeding my current obsession of the last few years - economics and the collapse of the financial market - I'm looking for more detailed information to understand the concepts, not just a score check. Both is the answer...we just need to make sure kids understand/have the ability to shift gears. There in lies the challenge....

December 7, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterNathan Mielke

Hi Nathan,

I agree both preferable. A cookie is fine now and then, but you just can make them the only thing you eat!


December 8, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterDoug Johnson

I hope someday the "classics" does not include someone's tweets.

December 9, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterBob

It may be coming. Kathy Schrock just published a list of her "best" tweets!


December 9, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterDoug Johnson

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