It's the end of the world as we know it, and I feel fine

Curated by Elyse Eidman-Aadahl
July 14, 2010

R.E.M. concludes “It’s the End Of the World As We Know It” with the memorable refrain.

It’s the end of the world as we know it.
It’s the end of the world as we know it.
It’s the end of the world as we know it and I feel fine…fine…

But in the background, a voice repeats:

It’s time I had some time alone.

Probably most of us have felt overwhelmed at some point by the barrage that is contemporary Internet and media culture, a barrage that shows up in numerous remixes for End of the World. But perhaps we just need some time alone—some time to think?

In this collection, we feature several takes on the potential impact of the ‘media/Internet barrage’. Nicholas Carr’s deliberately provocative essay “Is Google Making Us Stupid?” asks whether the shallow trolling for information that characterizes, among other things, the simple Google search has the effect of diminishing our capacity for, or interest in, sustained critical thought. Links at the end of the resource point to some of the vigorous and often skeptical discussion his argument has raised. Is he simply being an alarmist? Discussion linked at the end of the resource point to contrary viewpoints.

Others in this collection, such as Linda Stone and Maggie Jackson, ask similar questions but frame them in distinct ways around a focus on the skill or capacity for ‘attention’. Paying attention to attention is a 21st-century teaching priority for Howard Rheingold who uses vlogs to share some of his experiments with teaching for and about attention in his classes. Without raising Carr’s alarm about the malleability of the human brain, they point to social practices that accommodate attention and interruption in our lives.

All the thinkers collected here, including the critics of Internet culture, are careful to say “We are not Luddites.” But their protests mostly remind us that here and there they do sound that way. Perhaps it is because one still encounters so much resistance to digital technologies in education that the hackles are always up. But as Linda Stone says in her talk, this new world—with all its advantages and challenges—just is. At various points in history, humans have experienced socio/technical changes as dramatic as those we are experiencing now and have adapted.As David Theo Goldberg argues in his very smart post on DML Central titled “If technology is making us stupid, it’s not technology’s fault,”

Unlike television, and perhaps more like automobiles, computers are far from passive consumptive technologies. They enable, if not encourage, interactive engagement, creativity, and participatory interaction with others. The interaction can assume various forms, not all of which are productive. Yet like the appealing impacts of both television and automobile access for youth, the productive and creative capacities of computing technology for ordinary users are staggering. The question then is not the false dilemma between unqualified good and evil, but how best to enable the productive learning possibilities of new digital technologies.

But nonetheless, we recognize the concern and even fear that some experience as they think about the potential impact of such a pervasive change in culture. Is an entirely new and different generation of youth being created through digital media? That question led us to include a reference to Arthur C. Clarke’s science fiction novel Childhood’s End. An intriguing novel from the author of 2001: A Space Odyssey, it is a novel that some students may enjoy. Childhood’s End says, yes, it is the end of the world as we know it, but we should still feel fine.

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