I am uneasy of late, over the increasing fragmentation of knowledge. It is a concern that has grown slowly, only gradually dawning on me as I have delved deeper into the realms of childhood education and research in the past year. It began with my research into literature and my discovery of the shocking decline in American literacy. I have blogged before about the alarming statistics which indicate that reading has literally been routed from it’s throne as the primary mode of learning. For children, it is obvious that TV, electronic media and ever-present technology have usurped the rule of books. And oh the consequences. (More on that later).
But what about for adults? Every single age group has seen a decline in literacy so that it is evident that even those who didn’t grow up in this media age have replaced the act of reading with something else. What? I think for many, it is the Internet. While I fully recognize the incredible value of instant knowledge at our fingertips, I carry an anxious catch in my mind at our wholesale acceptance of the Internet as one of our primary forms of learning. I am deeply concerned because of the instant nature of the knowledge offered on the web because it seems to me that we have removed the stop of contemplation from our acquisition of truth. I can’t help but wonder what the mental and spiritual consequences of such an unprecedented omission will be.
Consider; for centuries our forebears gathered formal knowledge largely through the reading of time-honored books . In a world devoid of all technological media and the endless distraction we face in our time, reading was a far more focused, contemplative activity. Instead of a million websites, our ancestors had a single book by a single author. Their reading was punctuated by contemplation because they didn’t have the ability to click through to the next opinion of the next author on any given subject. Their acquisition of knowledge was much slower and therefore, I think, far more profound in nature than ours. Truth had a chance to grasp hold not only of their physical brains, but of their minds in contemplation, their spirits in the engagement of idea and truth as they had time to mull what they had learned.
The nature of information on the Internet seems fundamentally different to me. It is fragmented, brief, couched in the possibility of countless links to other opinions on any given subject. Our consumption of Internet knowledge is fast-paced, constant, so that there is no window of time in which we consider or muse on the meaning of what we have learned. We gather many pieces of knowledge but never have the contemplative pause necessary to weave them into a coherent grasp of a new truth. Though savvy and knowledgeable in a million areas, we are increasingly lacking in the depth of expertise that comes of the steady pursuit of a single subject.
Now I know, (really, I do know) how mind-bogglingly wonderful it is to live in an age of vast information. I am fully aware that it is possible to use the Internet to gather a deep understanding of a single issue and that because of the web, we have access to knowledge (in medicine, politics, arts, etc.) and Truth (Bible sites, community, etc.) that we never have before. The web just helped me to a diagnosis that I have sought for years. I just wonder if we ought to consider what effect such instant and constant information has upon the long-term health of soul and thought. Truth, in postmodern culture, is fragmented by definition. You simply pick the fragment you like best. I can’t help but wonder if the way in which we cull Truth from our world (contemplative reading vs. fast-paced browsing) contributes to this reality.
Just a thought. I could be wrong. There is definitely another side to be argued. But as Tevia (in Fiddler On the Roof) always says: “on the other hand…”