OPINION // Slave to Mark Zuckerberg
Is constant interconnectivity making us stupid?
There are two things that immediately come to mind when the topic of our interconnectedness is raised. The first is the nape of Keanu Reeves’ neck. Not because I find him a babe (Speed 2 killed any lingering nineties fantasies) or because I have a neck fetish, but because in The Matrix the camera spends an awfully large amount of time closing in on the vacumn-like hose that connects Reeves – or, of course, ‘Neo’ – to what the Wachowski Brothers, in all their science fiction wisdom imagined the internet to be; a place where wars are fought in skin tight vinyl and trench coats are utilized for maximum effect.
12 years on and the man who took Oprah on and then had to apologise is articulating the dangers of internet addiction in more realistic manner. Jonathan Franzen: novelist, Time Magazine cover star, occasional bird watcher and full time silver fox has made a career from a passionate dislike of all things online. Franzen has penned a book of short stories – How to Be Alone – and critically acclaimed 2010 novel Freedom, which both, to a certain extent, argue that our almost sub-conscious obsession with connectivity is killing us. His own story of turmoil:
“I have one of those nine-pound Dell laptops you can get for $389 because nobody ended up buying that model, for obvious reasons. I took the wireless card out immediately, and I plugged up the Ethernet hole with superglue. The biggest struggle was getting Hearts and Solitaire off of it. Windows just will not let you de-install a Solitaire program. It puts it back whenever you try to remove it.”
While Franzen sounds like a petulant child caught in a school yard scrap with the the internet – chewing gum in hair, the works – he is certainly tackling the zeitgeist: what does interconnectivity do for us and are we better off without it?
Well, unless you are part of the minority who finds their creative juices flow from being stoned, apparently (according to the Institute of Psychiatry) people who use technology excessively experience a 10-point fall in their IQ, which is double the result from smoking marijuana. I’ve never undertaken an IQ test but can only surmise that my nonsensical Google searches, incorrectly addressed emails, gradual grammatical digression are all somehow linked to the fact that I constantly try to read multiple things at once.
Furthermore, the inimitable wisdom of The Daily Mail compares the brain – our central organ of intelligence – to circus performers: “the human brain doesn’t multi-task like an expert juggler; it switches frantically between tasks like a bad amateur plate-spinner”, and goes on to cite a report from the Journal of Experimental Psychology that found that students were 40% slower at solving problems when they had to switch tasks, simultaneously releasing stress hormones and adrenaline. While I haven’t solved a maths problem for a decade I can imagine that determining what time two separate trains – travelling different distances, at different speeds – will arrive at the same destination is made infinitely harder by sparadical status updating.
This argument against the internet is somewhat sullied by the fact that all of these articles were available online, I wrote it in Google Docs and you’re reading it on www.naturallyspirited.com. The ultimate question I guess is: could I have done a better job – and would you have better understood – if you were reading it – and only it – somewhere other than online? Maybe Morpheus was onto something: “Throughout human history, we have been dependent on machines to survive. Fate, it seems, is not without a sense of irony.”
– Courtney Sanders