Your brain on the internet: project 3 debate and sample

We conclude Project 3 with a debate.

Claims/Questions for Further Debate: The influence of digital media on literature (and more broadly, on communication and thinking) have been harmful; we need to make changes, or at the very least be careful (Pandora, Frankenstein’s monster etc.). How do you respond? Additional claims:

  • These transformations have been harmful in our society and should be regulated. Harmful at the College. Give specific examples as to how/why they should or shouldn’t be regulated. 
  • If the we were to consult with a critic to guide our decision (to regulate or not the use of digital media at the College), who would you recommend and why? Birkerts, Barron, Carr, Turkle, McLuhan, Murray 

Some recent arguments that make these claims include “Our Love Affair with Digital is Over” and “How the Internet Fuels Paranoid Thinking”

And here is a recent op-ed by Frank Bruni that worries that the internet is not just affecting our brains (Carr) and our literacy (Birkerts), but our civic discourse. Frankenstein makes an appearance. “The Internet Will Be the Death of Us.”

And another op-ed by Bret Stephens, “How Plato Foresaw Facebook’s Folly,” that analyzes current problems with Facebook by forwarding Plato and the concern with writing–the critical insight we have seen forwarded now about 5 different times.




Sven Birkerts has been our central guide in the argument against the transition from print to digital forms of reading and writing. We are also thinking about ways to counter an argument–our own as well as others.

We found one example in Carr’s article: recall when he turns toward the end and admits that he might be worrying too much and invites us to be skeptical of his skepticism. That is a basic form of counterargument, located at the end; in effect, it is his last section of the argument, leading in to his conclusion.

Janet Murray’s introduction to Hamlet on the Holodeck, “A Book Lover Longs for Cyberdrama,” presents the whole of the argument as a counterargument. Note how she sets this up with her title and the epigraph, quoting Birkerts. She then extends counterargument by also entertaining an objection toward the end (much like Carr does): admitting (p. 7) that new technologies can be frightening, despite (or in counter to) her own argument that the computer is a “thrilling extension of human powers” (6).

For another example of countering the argument that the electronic age represents a “Frankenstein’s monster,” consider Robert Darnton’s “5 Myths About the ‘Information Age’.” There the approach is to counter, point by point, and very strongly, assertions made by the likes of Birkerts regarding the influence of the information age on reading and books.