I’ll just say it: I do believe the Web can make you crazy, especially in that holy-shit-where-did-those-13-hours-go? kind of way. And I say that at the risk of eliciting sneers from the cheerleaders out there. The Web is not utopia, and any argument that downplays its seductive, addictive power is misguided.
But I get where some of those arguments are coming from. I’ve probably made them while in pitched battles with alarmists who’d have you believe the Web eats kittens and rapes babies, or vice-versa. That’s always been the problem: Too many hysterics and extremists in the debate. Even worse at times are the academic arguments, often shrouded in holier-than-thou pronouncements and words you can’t pronounce.
This Newsweek article does a pretty even-handed job of marshalling growing empirical evidence of the Web’s influence in our lives — and on our brains. I hate anytime an article like this comes out, though. I get the same twinge in my gut.
On the one hand, my research and teaching depend on a gentle embrace of the Web. It’s a fabulous tool for journalism as a conversation. On the other hand, who hasn’t fell under the Web’s spell, misused or even abused it? In my case, it’s not even the sexy obsessive lure of social media. It’s returning e-mails when bigger tasks await me. Message me about whether there’s a cure for doggie hemorrhoids, and I’m on it.
The Web is neither heaven nor hell but something in between — life. As with so many fabulous things, including alcohol, you have to approach with care, lest you get ravaged.