Lots of commentators — like my old friend Nicholas Carr, for example – have bemoaned the rise of the Internet, and before that television, arguing that these evil distractions have shortened our attention spans and caused us to become digital idiots, capable of only the briefest moments of focus. Email, too, has come in for its share of blame and experts have recommended that you schedule it, or ration it, or avoid it altogether.
But all of this handwringing is missing the real point. It’s not that we’re becoming dumber, it’s rather that the object of our focus has changed. In one way, we’re actually getting smarter – much, much smarter.
Here’s what’s going on. Society – work, entertainment, and the arts – have been shifting from print to visual at a rapidly accelerating rate over the past half-century years. In the past decade, with the rise of broadband and the Internet, the shift has moved into high gear.