Allie Conti: Searching & Destroying

Background

GNIC hosted essay contests across the U.S. and Canada in fall 2009. Part of the prompt was:

[How does the internet change our] intelligence – our memories, attention spans, as well as our abilities to focus, reflect and synthesize? Specifically, shape your argument as a response to Nicholas Carr’s Is Google Making Us Stupid? and Jamais Cascio’s Get Smarter… [more]

Allie Conti won first place at the University of Florida. She studies English, Journalism and Religion, and she was an Opinions Editor for the The Independent Florida Alligator. You can contact Allie on her website.

Audio Interview

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Allie Conti’s Essay

“Netflix subscribers can now stream an unlimited amount of videos online with their subscriptions.  Instead of increasing the time I spend watching movies, though, I’ve found that this new service mostly increases the amount of time I spend clicking through movie descriptions and reviews. I add movies to my “virtual queue” that I never watch. I am a collector of hypothetical cinematic experiences. A lot of the times I end up watching nothing simply because I can watch everything.

Likewise, instead of immersing myself into a book, I sometimes find myself skimming through endless Wikipedia chains. Starting with a biography of Richard Wright, I’ll notice that I’m reading about John Keats’ theory of negative capability and wonder where the time went. Instead of this being a byproduct of a shortened attention span, this is simply a different type of learning, distinct from deep reading.

Simply put, there are two manners of acquiring knowledge that work in concordance with one another. To take from the title of an Iggy Pop song, I could call one “searching” and the other “destroying.” Searching involves researching topics to delve into, and destroying is the mastery of a specific, narrowly tailored topic.

The Internet is augmenting our ability to think because it allows us to find more things to think about. To respond to Nicholas Carr’s statement about how “staccato thinking” prevents once-voracious readers from completing novels–  “staccato thinking” and “deep thinking” are mutually exclusive, but they are different sides of the same coin. As a literature enthusiast, I use “searching” to whet my appetites and then “destroying” to tackle works that seem especially worthy of my time.  As a journalist and an editorialist, I use “searching” to find stories and “destroying” to focus in on a topic I want to localize. Instead of dampening my abilities to analyze information, the Internet provides me with an unlimited amount of topics to analyze. I must still use critical thinking to choose which topics are most relevant or important; once I am done scanning, I must switch to a different kind of thinking in order to “zero in.”

If anything, the Web has changed the way we think without erasing the ways we used to think before the age of the hyperlink. One could even say the Internet acts like a derailleur on a bicycle in a form of cognitive aerobics. Yes, I add many movies to my “instant queue” that I’ll probably never watch, but that doesn’t mean I lack the attention span to sit through them. Exploring a vast library of movies, or of any knowledge, is not a waste of time or a sign of technologically induced ADD – it is a form of augmenting one’s awareness of what exists  in order to appreciate something truly worthwhile when it is discovered, whether it be through human “fluid intelligence” or through the help of a artificial focusing assistant.”

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