Get unlimited digital access to $0.99 for 4 weeks.
News Opinion Op-Eds

Short attention spans and short memories

Nicholas Carr thinks thatGoogle is making us "stoopid."In a recent piece in The Atlantic,he says those of us who constantlysurf the Net can't concentrateproperly anymore --that instant access to virtuallyall information reduces our attentionspan. Mr. Carr says hecan no longer immerse himselfin a book or a long article,something that used to be easy for him. Has this happenedto you? I thought so. It's happened to me as well.

Mr. Carr points to research that suggests we may be in themiddle of neurological changes in the way we read andthink. He has been influential and controversial in his writingson information technology, which he doesn't believe tobe the savior so many think it is. If you want to learn moreabout this man and his message, well, just Google hisname; it's as easy as that. Which kind of illustrates his point.

Obviously, there are compensations for the price of havinga shorter attention span. No longer does a writer have tocamp out in the library stacks in order to do whatever researchis necessary for the latest book or scholarly article.It's all there, gobs and gobs of it, available with a few mouseclicks.

"My mind now expects to take in information," says Mr.Carr, "the way the Net distributes it: in a swiftly movingstream of particles. Once I was a scuba diver in the sea ofwords. Now I zip along the surface like a guy on a Jet Ski."

I've been zipping around the Net, reading, among otherthings, about the extraordinary events in Georgia, the formerSoviet republic turned American ally in the Caucasus,whose leader decided to beard the Russian bear in his den.He set about ethnically cleansing (don't you love the bloodlessnessof that idiotic euphemism for driving populationsfrom their living spaces by attacking and killing them?) theprovince of South Ossetia of Russians and Ossetians whoare opposed to living under Georgian rule and are in anautonomous region under the protection of Russian"peacekeepers."

Georgian President Mikhail Saakashvili, educated atGeorgetown and Columbia universities, seemed to thinkAmerican assurances of support in moving his troops andarmor into South Ossetia meant more than, "We'll holdyour coat while you get your butt whipped by the Russkies."He was wrong. When Russiacountered his attack and routedhis American- and Israeli-trainedand -equipped fighters, it becamequickly apparent that the UnitedStates wasn't about to battle Russia.It would use harsh words andthreaten bad things to come if theRussians didn't back off, but that,so far, is the extent of it.

Most of the mass media herehave been singing the government'stune on this confrontation--blaming it on Russia and overlookingthe Georgian crackdownin South Ossetia. But on the Internet,it's become quite evident that elsewhere in the worldthere is a different take on the crisis: simply put, that theUnited States erred in thinking it could continually encroachupon Russia's periphery without consequence.

For years, recent American administrations have beenprovoking Russia by lobbying NATO to include former Sovietrepublics while denying Russia itself membership.

And when Sen. John McCain, whose chief foreign policyadviser, Randy Scheunemann, is a lobbyist for Georgia,says, "In the 21st century, nations don't invade other nations"-- a statement quickly echoed by President Bush --laughter is heard around the world. If what Mr. McCain saidis true, how is one to account for our invasions of Iraq andAfghanistan, and the forces we've arrayed against Iranwhile powerful voices argue for us to attack it? Talk aboutcognitive dissonance.

The president complained that Russia's response was"disproportionate," perhaps forgetting that he found nothingdisproportionate about Israel invading, blockading andbombing Lebanon for more than a month in 2006 followingthe abduction of two Israel Defense Forces soldiers byHezbollah fighters.

Finally, The Wall Street Journal points out, "Russia's attackon Georgia has become an unexpected source of supportfor big U.S. weapons programs, including flashy fighter jetsand high-tech destroyers, that have had to battle for fundingthis year because they appear obsolete for today's conflictswith insurgent opponents."

It may not make sense to most of us to fire up the ColdWar again, but to the military/industrial behemoth, it'smoney in the bank.

Ron Smith can be heard weekdays, 3 p.m. to 6 p.m., on 1090WBAL-AM and His column appears Wednesdaysin The Sun. His e-mail is

Copyright © 2015, The Baltimore Sun
Related Content
  • WBAL

    Hear Ron Smith weekdays 3 - 6 p.m. on AM 1090 WBAL and

  • 'My Girl': 50 years and counting
    'My Girl': 50 years and counting

    There are sounds it feels like you've known forever, sounds that have been in your ear so long, it's hard to believe they were ever new. One of those sounds is this:

  • The stigma of lung cancer
    The stigma of lung cancer

    My mother has lung cancer. She never smoked.

  • Charter schools do not equal education reform
    Charter schools do not equal education reform

    As Philadelphia's Superintendent of Schools, I recommended the approval of more than 30 charter schools because I thought it would improve educational opportunity for our 215,000 students. The last 20 years make it clear I was wrong.

  • Retirement insecurity
    Retirement insecurity

    The "silver tsunami" predicted for Maryland, where more than 1 million workers have no retirement savings, is one that will sweep the rest of the country, too. As a matter of fact, the Employee Benefit Research Institute says the percentage of Marylanders with little or no savings is about...

  • Pre-booking diversion: an alternative to conviction and incarceration
    Pre-booking diversion: an alternative to conviction and incarceration

    In Baltimore City, approximately 20,000 people were arrested for drug-related offenses annually in 2012 and 2013; nearly three quarters for simple possession. And while there has been a great deal of discussion over the last few years regarding the incarceration of individuals for drug...

  • Hillary Clinton's identity crisis
    Hillary Clinton's identity crisis

    "Is Hillary Rodham Clinton a McDonald's Big Mac or a Chipotle burrito bowl? A can of Bud or a bottle of Blue Moon? JCPenney or J. Crew?"

  • The U.S. has yet to make good on its promise of reparations to black Americans
    The U.S. has yet to make good on its promise of reparations to black Americans

    Conversations about reparations are not about money but about people and about the way that people are seen and valued in our society. These are difficult conversations, and we have found that what is most challenging about the idea of reparations today is the notion that America still owes a...