The benefits of the Internet are obvious and indisputable.
The costs of the Internet, on the other hand, are far less obvious to many and, I would suspect, far more likely to be disputed.
I would imagine most would grant that at least one of the costs is the kind of dodgy activity and degrading content the web puts within all our reach, not least our children. Thanks to the Internet, for example, everyone of us is only a single mouse click away from exposure to content that is, if not illegal, at least morally degrading.
But there are other costs as well. Costs that come not from the content itself, but from the kind of medium the Internet is, and the kind of mental habits (or lack of them) it encourages and impedes.
An increasing number of thoughtful, technologically-saavy people are sounding this note. One is Nicholas Carr, in a forthcoming book, The Shallows: What the Internet is Doing to Our Brains.
He’s expressed the gist of his cautions and concerns in a CNN article. Here are a few paragraphs:
As we rush around the web gathering little pieces of information, we seem to be training our brains to be quick but superficial.
Only a curmudgeon would deny the many benefits that our computers and electronic networks have brought us. The internet and related technologies have made it much easier to stay in touch with friends and family members, to discover interesting and useful information, to express ourselves, and to collaborate with others.
Since the World Wide Web was invented two decades ago, we have been celebrating these benefits — and rightly so. But we’ve been paying much less attention to the negative consequences of our online lives.
The time has come for us to take a more balanced view of the net, looking at its costs as well as its benefits. That’s particularly true when it comes to educating our children. Sticking a kid in front of a computer screen is probably not the best way encourage the development of a strong, creative, and supple mind.
Of course, there’s no going back to pre-Internet days. Nor, it must be said, would one want to – given all the benefits of the Internet. But precisely because of this we would do well as individuals and families and communities and a culture to reflect more soberly and critically on the negative impact of this double-edged sword.
A balanced view is what we need. For only then will we be able to use this tool with wisdom and thus to use it to promote rather than undermine human flourishing.