Three tweets for the web

by on October 15, 2009 at 4:19 am in Web/Tech | Permalink

Here is my article in the Wilson Quarterly, in their latest issue on "The Death of the Book."  Excerpt:

Sometimes it does appear I am impatient. I’ll discard a half-read book that 20 years ago I might have finished. But once I put down the book, I will likely turn my attention to one of the long-running stories I follow online. I’ve been listening to the music of Paul McCartney for more than 30 years, for example, and if there is some new piece of music or development in his career, I see it first on the Internet. If our Web surfing is sometimes frantic or pulled in many directions, that is because we care so much about so many long-running stories. It could be said, a bit paradoxically, that we are impatient to return to our chosen programs of patience.

Another way the Web has affected the human attention span is by allowing greater specialization of knowledge. It has never been easier to wrap yourself up in a long-term intellectual project without at the same time losing touch with the world around you. Some critics don’t see this possibility, charging that the Web is destroying a shared cultural experience by enabling us to follow only the specialized stories that pique our individual interests. But there are also those who argue that the Web is doing just the opposite–that we dabble in an endless variety of topics but never commit to a deeper pursuit of a specific interest. These two criticisms contradict each other. The reality is that the Internet both aids in knowledge specialization and helps specialists keep in touch with general trends.

They also asked me for the Twitter version of the article, and it is this:

“Smart people are doing wonderful things.”

bibliophile October 15, 2009 at 7:42 am

“If our Web surfing is sometimes frantic or pulled in many directions, that is because we care so much about so many long-running stories… It has never been easier to wrap yourself up in a long-term intellectual project without at the same time losing touch with the world around you.†

I think these words excite me because I’ve read Tyler’s book. If I wanted someone I care about to understand what Tyler Cowen is saying about the new world and share the excitement I’d definitely buy them the book rather than email the article. The Twitter only tells me that there’s something I do not know yet. It makes me anxious. Am I ‘smart’ too? What is a ‘wonderful thing’?

lurz October 16, 2009 at 12:41 am

“If our Web surfing is sometimes frantic or pulled in many directions, that is because we care so much about so many long-running stories.”

I wonder if you’re extrapolating from your own behavior too much. I’m frantically pulled in different directions… mostly into quick fixes, procrastinating, useless stuff. Aren’t more people like me?

Stephen N. October 19, 2009 at 8:33 pm

I agree that the internet is a wonderful tool for sharing and accessing data, but it is important that one uses it constructively. It is great that we can get a wide range of opinions on current events, but when we only seek out information that confirms our beliefs it can lead to a skewed view of the world. When you read a newspaper (online or not) you are probably getting a fairly balanced presentation of facts. If you exclusively read a blog written by someone who doesn’t considered other view points, then you aren’t becoming as informed as you think. It’s important to consider the biases and agendas of others when you read their opinions. -Stephen N WCU 1257

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