The Future of the Internet IV

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I finally found time to browse The Future of the Internet study (downloadable here) released last month by the highly respected Pew Research Center’s Internet & American Life Project. This latest survey (the fourth in a series of Internet expert studies) gathered opinions from 895 prominent scientists, business leaders, consultants, writers and technology developers on several questions, including ‘Will Google make us stupid?’ (with obvious reference to the famous Atlantic Monthly article by Nicholas Carr: Is Google Making us Stupid?). Apparently, 76 per cent of the Internet experts believe it hasn’t which is a relief given I use this site a squillion times a day.

Of more interest to me was the question: ‘Will the Internet enhance or detract from reading, writing, and rendering of knowledge?’ In this instance, a less resounding 65 per cent were of the opinion that the Internet is enhancing the way we read, write and render knowledge. Reading some of the selected responses, it is pretty clear that those answering in the negative tend to hold a fairly traditional view of reading, writing and presentation. As a self-confessed spelling and grammar nazi, I do have empathy for this view, but I believe there is a time and place for it. For example, you can’t write a dissertation in SMS abbreviations, and a Steinbeck novel shouldn’t be read in a series of Tweets. However, modes of communication will continue to evolve and, ultimately, if it is possible to convey meaning in an efficient and effective manner, then this should be the real test. This does not imply a dumbing down, but a reconceptualisation of what it means to be literate. Putting it another way, if you read lots of books and write beautifully does it matter if you are a ‘digital illiterate’? In an increasingly digital world, I think it probably does.