Dozens of people wrote to share their own stories of how the Web has scattered their attention, parched their memory, or turned them into compulsive nibblers of info-snacks. I was particularly struck by the large number of notes that came from young people- high-schoolers, college kids, twentysomethings. They fear that constant connectivity may be constricting rather than expanding their horizons. Some of their stories are poignant. One college senior sent me a long e-mail describing how he has struggled “with a moderate to major form of Internet addiction” since the third grade. “I am unable to focus on anything in a deep or detailed manner,” he wrote. “The only thing my mind can do, indeed the only thing it wants to do, is plug back into that distracted frenzied blitz of online information.” He is drawn back into the Web even though he knows that “the happiest and most fulfilled times of my life have all involved a prolonged separation from the Internet.”…
Of course, in conjuring up a big anti-Net backlash, I may be indulging in a fantasy of my own. After all, the internet tide continues to well. In the months since I completed The Shallows, Facebook membership has doubled from 300 million to 600 million; the number of text messages processed every month by the typical American teen has jumped from 2,300 to 3,300; sales of e-readers, tablets, and smartphones have skyrocketed; app stores have proliferated; elementary schools have rushed to put iPads in their students’ hands; and the time we spend in front of screens has continued its seemingly inexorable rise. We may be wary of what our devices are doing to us, but we’re using them more than ever. And yet, history tells us, it’s only against such powerful cultural currents that countercultural movements take shape.
… it’s a small boat. But there’s still plenty of room inside. Feel free to grab an oar.
The Shallows, p. 226,228