Is the Internet really a bad invention? According to Doris Lessing, yes.
We are in a fragmenting culture, where our certainties of even a few decades ago are questioned and where it is common for young men and women, who have had years of education, to know nothing of the world, to have read nothing, knowing only some speciality or other, for instance, computers.
What has happened to us is an amazing invention – computers and the internet and TV. It is a revolution. This is not the first revolution the human race has dealt with. The printing revolution, which did not take place in a matter of a few decades, but took much longer, transformed our minds and ways of thinking. A foolhardy lot, we accepted it all, as we always do, never asked: “What is going to happen to us now, with this invention of print?” In the same way, we never thought to ask, “How will our lives, our way of thinking, be changed by the internet, which has seduced a whole generation with its inanities so that even quite reasonable people will confess that, once they are hooked, it is hard to cut free, and they may find a whole day has passed in blogging etc?”
Very recently, anyone even mildly educated would respect learning, education and our great store of literature. Of course we all know that when this happy state was with us, people would pretend to read, would pretend respect for learning. But it is on record that working men and women longed for books, evidenced by the founding of working-men’s libraries, institutes, and the colleges of the 18th and 19th centuries. Reading, books, used to be part of a general education. Older people, talking to young ones, must understand just how much of an education reading was, because the young ones know so much less.
We all know this sad story. But we do not know the end of it. We think of the old adage, “Reading maketh a full man” – reading makes a woman and a man full of information, of history, of all kinds of knowledge. A hunger for books
Certainly I understand the perspective. We take the astounding availability of knowledge for granted. Instead of stuffing our brains with more and more information, we are content to waste our time online. I think creating a love of life long learning should be the goal.
Books are great. I love to read. Reading is important, yes. I also love to talk to others about what I’ve been reading. The prevalence of books created the Intellectual Movement in which people published books to discuss ideas. Except for Divine knowledge, ideas are refined through challenging weaknesses or problems. The printing press made it easier for people to publish books and get these ideas to the masses so more can read them and respond by publishing their own books. The Internet and especially blogging has improved the response latency from day to years to minutes.
Collaborative philosophical inquiry helps kids at an early age. These skills serve them well even into high school. This strikes me as similar to how the Intellectual Movement worked. Should this be adopted more broadly, then maybe our kids won’t embarrass Doris?