When I originally came across the new book Is The Internet Changing How You Think? edited by John Brockman, I could not help but chuckle. The title sounds about as ridiculously out of date as Al Gore’s famous description of the Internet itself: “The Information Super-Highway.”
The question was posed as something of a “Well duh…” type of query. What Brockman was looking for was a wide variety of opinions on the subject. By posing this open-ended thought to 150 people, and asking for approximately 1,000 words in response, he got his answer. Rather, he got quite a number of answers, and wound up with an incredibly absorbing collection of essays.
W. Dan Hollis’ introduction spells out the type of thinking the book is filled with. He quotes a Tom Wolfe 1999 article titled “Hooking Up.” In it, the white-suited one tells us how our world is the same as it ever was. Wolfe once captured the zeitgeist of the culture with books such as The Kandy-Kolored Tangerine-Flake Streamline Baby, and The Electric Kool-Aid Acid Test.
In “Hooked Up,” he labels the online world as nothing more than “Digibabble.” Wolfe’s point was that the Internet was nothing more than a new form of communication. While it may have been updated a bit from markings on caves to tell stories, the Internet/Web (which he uses interchangeably) was nothing more than another way for people to talk to each other.
The type of thinking that fills this book is evident in Hollis’ response. He mentions how many people in the mid-nineteenth century thought that the introduction of electricity simply meant lighting for their house. “A few dreamers speculated that electricity would change the world, but one can imagine a nineteenth-century curmudgeon: ‘Electricity is a convenient means to light a room…. The rest is Electrobabble.’”
Although I enjoyed every one of the essays, it was Brian Eno’s “What I Notice” that most made me sit up and (pun intended) take notice. The piece has a rhythmic flow, each thought beginning with the words “I notice…” But he hit upon an amazing piece of truth with this one: “I notice that everything the Net displaces reappears somewhere else in a modified form… Bookstores with staff who know about books, and record stores with staff who know about music are becoming more common.”
Those are just two of the great opinions collected in Is The Internet Changing How You Think? While Brockman solicited numerous sources, some of the other recognizable names include Douglas Coupland, Jonas Mekas, Stewart Brand, and (believe it or not) Alan Alda.
Alda’s comments actually really surprised me. They are so far from the image I had of the man — and wonderfully so I might add.
I was shocked at how much these bite-sized essays made me think. And yes, I oftentimes read them sitting down. Is The Internet Changing The Way You Think? is the ultimate bathroom book for pseudo-intellectuals like myself. But honestly, there is nothing intellectual about it at all. The collection reads very much like a conversation with a trusted friend.