Does tech make us stupid, or just rude?

OK, so maybe not stupid, but apparently lazy. At least according to The Atlantic‘s Nicholas Carr it does. Based on the length of the piece, his writing chops are certainly still intact.

Now my concentration often starts to drift after two or three pages. I get fidgety, lose the thread, begin looking for something else to do …. I think I know what’s going on. For more than a decade now, I’ve been spending a lot of time online, searching and surfing and sometimes adding to the great databases of the Internet.

Carr seems to think the web’s delivery format, and the sheer volume of information he is exposed to, is making it harder for him to concentrate on longer, more involved reading. The fact that so much information, including that used for research, is often just a click or two away and digestible an excerpt at a time, says Carr, is making us impatient. He says that his friends agree:

I’m not the only one. When I mention my troubles with reading to friends and acquaintances—literary types, most of them—many say they’re having similar experiences. The more they use the Web, the more they have to fight to stay focused on long pieces of writing. Some of the bloggers I follow have also begun mentioning the phenomenon. Scott Karp, who writes a blog about online media, recently confessed that he has stopped reading books altogether.

But, is this about capacity to read more deeply or just not taking the time? I’m probably as guilty as anyone of not reading as much, but I do try to make sure I have a book going most of the time. I actually relish the opportunity to get into a novel or work of nonfiction. I certainly don’t find it any harder to concentrate, despite the fact that I follow lots of feeds and scan plenty of online content on a daily basis.

The Technology Liberation Front‘s Adam Thierrer feels reasonably positive about the change communications tech is bringing:

The death of media scarcity and the rise of information abundance was bound to have profound implications for how we read, write and communicate—in most ways for the better, but perhaps in some ways for the worse. I doubt we’ll ever have a Shakespeare arising from the world of Twitter, for example, but I believe we are better off for having technologies and media platforms like it in our lives.

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A reversable food crisis

The biggest problem with the current food crisis is not that it exists, but that it never should have happened in the first place and can definitely be reversed. And it’s not just the wrong-headed rush to create biofuels, but the products our food system produces the most of (and how it produces them), which exacerbate the reduced availability of crops to directly feed people.

Biofuel

When you consider that the 25% of US corn crops currently used to produce ethanol will rise to over 30% next year, and is mandated by George Bush to double present levels by 2015, there would seem to be no relief on the horizon. As the flavour of the day, Corn’s price is going up and farmers are beginning to convert other crops to corn in order to cash in. It’s an answer to high oil prices, but it hardly seems the right one. We use roughly the energy we produce in making biofuel, and there are environmental impacts to that production, too.

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