Posted by: chrissypurcell | November 17, 2012

The Internet: Evolutionary Friend or Foe?

In The Shallows, Nicholas Carr presents a compelling argument for curbing internet dependency.  Every time we check our phone, scan Facebook, and interrupt an important task to search the web, we are re-wiring our brains to strengthen skills associated with multi-tasking and short bursts of superficial engagement, and weakening our skills associated with concentrated attention and deep analysis.

But the fact remains – the internet is here, and I have a feeling it’s here to stay. As someone who’s fascinated by evolutionary psychology, The Shallows has left me wondering what this will mean for the big picture of the human race. The book presents a sobering cost-benefit analysis of human-computer interaction, but the bottom line is that we’ve created these technologies and we choose to engage with them. I wonder what this means from an evolutionary standpoint – in 1,000 or 1 million years will  the internet have significantly impacted the human race? Will we be thankful that we’ve honed the ability to scan information and jump from task to task (if we’re still around)?

There’s no answer to these question since no one can predict the future. But someone has written a book hypothesizing that the internet is a key player in the grand evolutionary story of the human race: Evolution and the Emergent Self, by Raymond Neubauer.  Full disclosure: I haven’t read  the book, and after reading an interview with the author I’m not sure I assume credibility. But it might be a fun read over winter break.

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