Web Limits

Ye Keep an Open Eye editor just positively relishes what the Web allows – quick confirmation of facts and dips into expert knowledge through Google, Wikipedia, NewScientist, theEconomist, and just browsing the books at Barns and Noble or Amazon websites. But there is a growing word of caution about the effectiveness of the Web that David Brooks captures at the NYTimes:

Recently, Internet mavens got some bad news. Jacob Vigdor and Helen Ladd of Duke’s Sanford School of Public Policy examined computer use among a half-million 5th through 8th graders in North Carolina. They found that the spread of home computers and high-speed Internet access was associated with significant declines in math and reading scores.

This study, following up on others, finds that broadband access is not necessarily good for kids and may be harmful to their academic performance. And this study used data from 2000 to 2005 before Twitter and Facebook took off.

These two studies feed into the debate that is now surrounding Nicholas Carr’s book, “The Shallows.” Carr argues that the Internet is leading to a short-attention-span culture. He cites a pile of research showing that the multidistraction, hyperlink world degrades people’s abilities to engage in deep thought or serious contemplation.

Carr’s argument has been challenged. His critics point to evidence that suggests that playing computer games and performing Internet searches actually improves a person’s ability to process information and focus attention. The Internet, they say, is a boon to schooling, not a threat.

The evidence and arguments on the deficiencies of the Web accumulate around two central ideas.

First, the Web and especially mobile devices do not foster acquiring good reading skills. Rather the opposite proficiency in the elements of reading including breadth of vocabulary, spelling skills, timbre or shades of meaning are less well developed. In her Proust and the Squid, Maryann Wolf explores the illuminating neuroscience of reading acquisition with emphasis on deficiencies [dyslexia, autism] and the basic retardants to reading development.  She also sees the Web as short-changing the development of  broader understanding  skills that books and reading foster.

Second, the Web promotes bad habits that inhibit good analysis and dialog. This is the crux of the argument in Nicholas Carr’s book the Shallows. Ye Keep an Open Eye editor can testify to some of the shallows cited by Nicholas Carr. Some of the commentary sent to this blog is so short-sighted, missing either context [other postings and comments] or  simply negligent of doing any fact checking. Also there can be attitude of belligerent disputation completely lacking in civility and control of language that is just offending and creates only emotional heat at best.

So Keep an Open Eye will do that about whether there is a shallows and  limits to effective learning of  real analytic and communication skills engendered by the Web.  In effect, the question is – what are the effective Web limits to learning and understanding?