The Internet is Like Autism

The Internet is Like Autism

A friend recently sent me a link to a Steven Colbert interview with Nicholas Carr, the author of “The Shallows: What the Internet Is Doing to Our Brains.” Carr contends the Internet is dumbing us down by bombarding us with bits and pieces of information. Backed by a mountain of research Carr believes we are creating new habits of the mind never pausing long enough to comprehend at any meaningful level what we read, hear or see on the Internet.

“The core of education is this: developing the capacity to concentrate. The fruits of this capacity we call civilization.” The immediacy of the Internet moment, however, pulls us away from sustained immersion, which directly effects the development of our neural pathways.

If you believe Carr’s theory the long-term consequences of swimming in the intellectual shallows makes for an eerie future funhouse of more and more information and less and less understanding.

Silence, but not Silent Spring
I like to read. I like to think. I like to write. But as a parent all 3 are off limits a good portion of the day.

My younger son, Ian, has auditory integration issues. Goodbye car radio. Cell phone calls are a no-no. Talking to other passengers in the car? Think meltdown?

The same rules apply at home. Reading is okay as long as each sentence does not require shifting the eyeballs to a new line on the page – I call it the 7 words rule. Longer sentences reduce the peripheral vision necessary to ensure Ian is not somehow unlocking the doors or lighting the house on fire.

I’ve learned the hard way to stay in the present. Problems like, “If I hide my coffee cup behind a box of plastic forks will Ian be able to get to it before I can unlatch, grab the chicken breasts, and re-latch the refrigerator door?” What’s the downside? Ian could get to the cup, but I’m too close for him to drink it. He could pour it on the floor. But I have a towel on the counter.

Solution. Drink the coffee, clean and store the cup, and latch the cupboard before attempting to open the refrigerator. High five for me!

I’m afraid if I was presented with getting the fox, goose, and beans across the river during the day when my problem-solving skills are by habit parsed into 3-5 second intervals I might opt to bend the rules and fry and feed the goose to Ian to get to the other side.

Watching Colbert resonated with me. The lack of sustained thought and time for reflection can be a problem. It suggested an autism-like quality that was more concerned with the here-now-immediate than with big ideas. But the more I thought about it the less it rang true.

Ian forces you to focus on him. It’s nature’s way. All your attention is necessarily devoted to how he looks, feels, moves and sounds. Is he in pain, is he responding to the latest nutrient, is he energetic or lackadaisical, why is he sneezing? And In that attention to the seemingly shallowest of information lie the answers.
Caught in the moment does not mean trapped in the moment. Fast-twitch observation opens doors that otherwise would remain closed. Much of human history finds a preoccupation with the slow. Incubation periods lasting centuries and a false reliance on antiquity have dominated human thought for the last several thousand years. Twenty years into the web and Carr is writing the rules of future thought?

Reading Carr one gets the impression he is attempting to fashion the next Silent Spring or The Medium is the Message manifesto. But his work is built on false premises and will be forgotten in 3 years.

Like every parent in the autism community experience in switching between short- and long-term ideas and immersion provides clarity, insight and a more ready acceptance to what each offers.