In his new book The Shallows, Nick Carr argues that "in the choices we have made, consciously or not, about how we use our computers, we have rejected the intellectual tradition of solitary, single-minded concentration, the ethic that the book bestowed on us." Carr believes that our increasing reliance on digital technology is eroding our capacity for contemplative thought. He elaborates on this alarming idea in an interview over at The Atlantic:
What sets the Internet apart from radio and television—earlier mass media—is that the Net doesn't just process sound and video. It processes text. I think it's fair to say that the written word is extremely important to our intellectual lives and our culture. Until recently text was distributed through the printed page, which encouraged immersion in a single narrative or argument. With the Net, text becomes something that can be broadcast electronically the way sound and pictures can be. So you begin to see the same habits of thought: distracted, hurried, and (I would argue) superficial. What we're seeing is a revolution in textual media.
Since immersion in a single narrative is pretty much the textbook definition of reading a novel, this doesn't augur well for people in my line of work.
Michael Agger has an interesting review of The Shallows over at Slate. I like this quote from Nick Carr:
Try reading a book while doing a crossword puzzle; that's the intellectual environment of the Internet.