This weekend an experiment in turning off the noise. No computer, no blackberry, no radio and (normal for me but to be complete) no television. I did not reach any grand conclusions about research or life. I did not find myself suddenly thinking more clearly under a more blue sky and greener trees. I did read several books, but I should point out they were mass-market nonfiction I had saved up for my great break from work and graduate school, not for a great break from the internet.
In The Shallows: What the Internet is Doing to Our Brains, Nicholas Carr points out that brain plasticity means your brain becomes good at what you practice. In my case, access to the internet doesn't mean I don't read. I read at length on a daily basis. Carr quotes college professors complaining that it is nearly impossible to get today's undergraduates to read entire books. I am going to guess that is more about the entitlement of today's undergraduates than it is about their brain plasticity.
Entitlement is obnoxious, especially in the young, but it is another effect of the internet. The internet breaks down what used to be intellectual expertise. In The Marketplace of Ideas: Reform and Resistance in the American University Louis Menard points out that a professor used to have authority simply based on the fact that long reading had provided access to information not available to the average person. With nearly any fact available on Google, specialists no longer have this advantage. Reading an entire book requires a justification (a justification that today's muddled educational system fails to make either intellectually or by authority).
In Cognative Surplus Clay Shirky writes of a child who refused to interact with a television in the mode required by television- passive observation. "Where's the mouse?" This is the entitlement I missed this weekend. I now expect to be able to talk back. Or at least talk about. In our intellectually fragmented world, if I had brought together the whole population of the resort it is not likely that any of us had read the same books (although with the 101 Kindles and iPads present, it isn't as easy as it once was to tell just by looking at someone carrying their reading material!). Formulating what I might say about a book or an experience and saying it- this is the buzzing in the brain that I missed this weekend, and I am more than happy to have it back.