The Problem of Desensitization
Those who spend any amount of time absorbing new media quickly discover their subtly addictive nature. Clicking through to the next page takes no effort, and the fact that a real person has deemed whatever lies on that page as worthy of a link provides a real incentive to follow. It is like a perpetual treasure hunt, except without a fixed end and where all the obstacles are minimized. The nature of the environment is such that people can spend enormous amounts of time reading and listening and writing.
The problem of time management online is fairly obvious. Far more subtle, and hence more problematic, is the potential for desensitization to the information we consume. And nearly all creators of new media are, to some extent, consumers of new media. One key aspect that establishes the new media as new is its conversational and communal nature. It is user-generated, blurring the lines between consumers and producers. But it is this ease and fragmented nature of consumption and production that critics of new media point to as so destructive. Douglas Groothius writes:
Cyberspace offers the promise of a kind of cognitive ubiquity – the world at our keyboard and screen – at the cost of depth. This encourages one to become a cognitive tourist, who visits many sites on the Net, downloads and combines many bits of data, but understands very little… the cognitive tourist of cyberspace may easily visit (and possibly record) information without digesting it.
Groothius’s critique is poignant but doesn’t go far enough. The prevalence of information potentially has a numbing effect on the reader and can engender a curiosity in things otherwise considered trivial. The popular website Fark.com has developed a following by finding the most obscure, weird, and otherwise forgettable stories, attaching witty commentary, and providing a community of would-be comics a space to ply their trade. It is an amusing site, but it thrives on the thirst for the odd and unique that the plentitude of information has exacerbated.
*Douglas Groothius. The Soul in Cyberspace. (Wipf and Stock: Eugene, 1997). 73-74.
Taken from The New Media Frontier edited by John Mark Reynolds and Roger Overton, ©2008. Used by permission of Crossway, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers, Wheaton, IL 60187, www.crossway.org. Download for personal use only.