Scott Greenfield: On Blogging
Attorney-Client Privilege and Online Assaults

Reading this Blog Makes You Stupid

Or does it make you smarter?  There's substantial debate about the effect of the Internet and other gadgets on user attention and intelligence.  All of these attacks on the Internet fail to ask: What's the alternative?

In other words, what were people doing with their time before reading blogs?  Pre-blogs, were people translating Homer in between solving quadratic equations?  

I don't watch television or make small talk at the office.  I do spend a lot of time online.  

Today a friend on Facebook noted in his status update that today was the anniversary of D-Day.  I went to Wikipedia to read about the Normandy Invasion.  From there I clicked links to read about General Erwin Rommel's joining the assignation plot against Adolf Hitler.  The assassination attempt failed, but Rommel was allowed to kill himself rather than be tried before Germany's kangaroo court.

What does it matter that a German general was given the opportunity to kill himself rather than face trial for his joining the conspiracy against Hitler?  There was a fascinating insight into Adolf Hitler's success.  Hitler gave Rommel a free pass because it worked to Hitler's advantage.  Rommel was very popular with average Germans.  If Hitler had taken the assassination personally, Hitler would have acted against his own self-interest. Hitler let an enemy win because it meant Hilter won, too.

Most of us would want to crush anyone who tried killing us.  Hitler let it slide.  Wisdom involves learning from others' mistakes and successes.  Isn't there wisdom to gain from Hitler's treatment of Rommel?

If I had read this stuff in a book, would that have legitimized it?  Would it have then made me smarter?  Since you read that stuff on my blog, does it all become inconsequential?

I read blogs about many high-end subjects, and banter with smart guys on Twitter and Facebook.  Should I watch TV and talk at the water cooler?

The ADD aspect of e-mail and the Internet is real, but unalarming:

Scientists say juggling e-mail, phone calls and other incoming information can change how people think and behave. They say our ability to focus is being undermined by bursts of information.

These play to a primitive impulse to respond to immediate opportunities and threats. The stimulation provokes excitement — a dopamine squirt — that researchers say can be addictive. In its absence, people feel bored.

Yes, but that's due to the larger trend of focusing on the novel.  Without the Internet, most people wouldn't be sitting around pondering anything important.  They'd be looking for new restaurants to dine out at; complaining about eating leftovers; and clicking through the TV channels for something "new."  Or maybe go buy another pair of shoes.

The Internet and its related gadgets would be an alarming trend if people suddenly stopped reading books and pondering life's deeper questions.  For better or not, people today are no less frivolous and ignorant than they were yesterday.

Those who want to learn have an incredible opportunity.  Go to Wikipedia some late night.  Pick a subject.  Any subject.  Start clicking link after link.  

One night I went from reading about Pink Flloyd's "Time," to the philosophical concept of memento mori.  From there I found some art that spoke to me.  If I had gone to a museum, I'd be called cultured.  Because I remained online, suddenly I'm stupid?

The Internet is a great joy and great opportunity.  Like most things in life, what matters is what you choose to focus on.  You can watch Internet porn or forward e-mail jokes to friends.  Or you can spend a Sunday afternoon reading about D-Day, and learning from the successes and mistakes of others.