This is scary stuff, because Ive personally experienced it. Its becoming really hard to focus on a longer, in-depth article or essay, and reading a book seems so daunting that I keep on postponing the activity for weeks. For instance I was recently hit by a wave of enthusiasm and ordered a few books from my preferred online bookstore; started reading a book called 7 Habits of Highly Effective People; completed 40%; got busy, and after that, I think its been 4-5 weeks; Ive never been able to resume it. Ironically, an important part of this book explains to you how to focus on important things (I consider reading highly important) and how to stick to things that you really want to do.
Recently I was listening to an old, 60s song and was thinking how simple, uncomplicated life they had back then, unencumbered by the travails of the contemporary world. This is a myth actually, because Id be utterly unemployed/unemployable had I been born in the good old days; I can earn my livelihood only due to technology and the advancements in communications. And who would like to live in the middle-Age, or the dark ages. These are by far the best times to be alive.
But yes, technology does dumb you down if you are not careful. Whether we like to admit it or not, the non-Internet generations were a lot smarter; they were perceptive and aware of their surroundings. I remember reading a joke where a teenager laughs at an elderly person, What boring lives you people lived, you didnt have cars, you didnt have cell phones and computers and you didnt have cool airplanes. What did you guys do all the time?
Asshole, replied the elderly person, we were inventing and making all these things all the time.
These days most youngsters are busy creating stupid MySpace, Orkut and FaceBook profiles, or maniacally submitting links to Digg, or sending SMSs to their friends and adding and removing contacts from their chat clients. Those who worry about their marks attend 3-4 tuitions everyday and they simply cram without ever understanding a thing. Ive personally experienced this: some high-scoring school kids are so dumb that its unbelievable. When they are not studying they are chatting on their phones, or through social networking websites, or watching TV programs that are not even entertaining. Ask them what book theyre reading these days and most will give you an elated smile and then proudly show you the latest edition of Harry Potter.
Plato in The Republic says young men used to crave to join the elders to exchange views on philosophy, art, science, politics and religion and every evening there used to be one gathering or another where they would eagerly listen to what men of knowledge and experience had to say. Imagine todays kids doing this.
The article linked above blames most of it to the hundreds of distractions available these days. Its true, that distractions play an important role in steering our preferences, but the bigger factor is the utter lack of direction in the parent generation. Somehow it missed the chance of making a big civilizational stride by not being there when their children needed answers. Technology, under proper guidance, can turn us into super-performers, both on physical level and mental level; without proper guidance, it creates a chaotic world where things just happen, whether they are good or bad.