With every newly adopted form of media comes massive, sweeping changes in how society operates and is organized. Not only this- it changes the way we think and communicate.
The transition from an oral to a written culture does well to illustrate this point. For thousands of years, society had an oral culture. For all intensive purposes, communication was accomplished almost exclusively through spoken word. Ancient Greek epics were developed and disseminated through orators, who would memorize them in their entirety and recite them in front of an audience. As standard alphabets began to be developed and used, and people were educated as per their use, epics, philosophical arguments and virtually everything else worth documenting began to be put to written word. While it was not adapted by the masses for a few hundred years (only a privileged few had access to such specialized education), the landscape of communication was slowly revolutionized, but not without significant resistance. Socrates himself expressed great concern over the development of the alphabet and written word, stating that it would be far more difficult for knowledge to be retained when information could simply be accessed via the written word. He argued that such (comparatively) easy access to information would all but eliminate the need to remember information. Clearly, this was not the case. While at first, reading was a long, frustrating and laborious process, with time and increased exposure, society developed to the point where most literate people’s brains were rewired for absorbing and transmitting information easily in its written form.
With the written culture we have operated in for hundreds of years now (catalyzed by the printing press), information has been absorbed quietly, for an extended period of time and requiring deep concentration, from books and the like. With the advent of the internet and it’s ever-increasing prevalence, this is rapidly changing. The internet delivers information to us in small chunks scattered across an easily navigable digital plain. Quickly getting information from numerous sources, sometimes even simultaneously, is easier now than ever before. Just as our brains adapted to the written word when it became the norm, our brains are again adapting, this time to a new, digital culture.
Clearly, the way we obtain and interpret information is changing drastically. The one ambiguity here is the consequences this may have on our collective way of thinking. The aforementioned change in the context of transitioning to written culture was generally a positive one. But the internet has arguably made us more distractible, and less accustomed and inclined to engage in the slower, deeper concentration of reading. Whether or not this is a good thing, and how we adapt to this new mode of thinking, remains to be seen.