It’s not a surprise to read and hear ideas like those of Nicholas Carr. I can hardly blame him myself given my own struggles to stay focused while using the internet, but I am hard pressed to blame the technology itself. Yes, there is something to be said for the negative affects technology, specifically search engines, have had on our knowledge or memory like Carr asserts, but I would argue this technology has simply amplified an already existing problem, not created a new one. For example, just through one semester of owning my own textbooks I have baptized a number of them in highlighter ink and tattooed them with sticky notes. At the same time I have a number of folders, favorites tabs, and reading lists saved on my computer to identify articles or website valid and useful for a topic. This idea is not new to the technological age, and the fears of new technology are not new to society as a whole.
It was 1545 when Conrad Gesner published his work Bibliotheca Universalis earning him the title “The Father of Bibliography”, and in essence producing the first extensive encyclopedia of sorts. This book revolutionized the ideas of written knowledge and yet Gesner himself had his fears about the floods of knowledge circulating his modern world. Interestingly enough his largest concern was that of the printing press. The idea of everyone having access to all information seemed unfathomable and dangerous to him. The fear of new technology is nothing new. Like it has in so many other aspects, history is once again repeating itself when it comes to the use of search engines and other online technology.
Writing into my own christian worldview I find this topic particularly interesting and particulary revealing about the state of humanity. Here we are nearly 500 years after Gesner’s death and yet we still struggle with the same issues he did just in different ways. From spoken word to written word, from written word to printed word, from printed word to typed word, and now from typed word to nearly everyone the same struggles have persisted. When I read Romans 1:18 stating all men in our human nature have suppressed the truth, or Isaiah 64 on the fallenness of mankind, I see this not in technology, but in the recurring problems we have faced over and over again. In some aspect or another we are all humanist, we all want to move towards perfection, we simply choose different ways to get there. The religious find that way through God and scripture, the secular try to find it through technology and thought. When we look at all the technological upgrades our world has made, and yet still see the same problems in all of these upgrades it begs the question how much closer to perfection are we really getting?
All this to say, technology is not the problem. We can use discernment, moderation, or any other tool you find helpful to weed out was is good and bad information on the internet, but we do need to be mindful of the real underlying issues at hand. The fact throughout all time we have had the same underlying issues behind all fears and problems with new technology should teach us something. Whatever the next technological improvement is in this field I am sure we will have the same fears and problems, and we will once again be faced with trying to find a solution that could potentially lead to another new problem.