The Internet Stupidity Question
By Pat Buzby
Heres a potentially embarrassing admission: one of the first records I bought, around 1981 when I was in first grade, was ELOs Time. One song on that album starts with the lines remember the good old 1980s/when things were so uncomplicated? ELO is seldom noted for its lyrics, but the irony in those lines was clever. Although perhaps not subtle, since I got it even then.
I thought of those lines a bit recently when the Atlantic Monthly published an opinion piece about the Internet shortening attention spans and making people dumber. Some bits of that article resonated with me. I too have paused after writing each paragraph of some of these columns to open my e-mail, or see if there was breaking news about McCain and Obama, or check if something notable appeared on DIME. And I have also felt a sense of triumph on the rare occasions when I have managed to sit with a book, or album, for an uninterrupted stretch of more than 10 minutes.
However, I have been thinking over the Internets impact on my music listening and reading this month. And I must say that its influence has been benign, perhaps even productive.
For instance, over the last few weeks I have been looking through Lewis Porters biography of John Coltrane. This book gets into the nuts and bolts (or, as skeptics might put it, the music-geek stuff) of what Coltrane was doing. Before that I was browsing, although rarely joining, some online-mailing-list discussions where various jazz musicians gave their opinions about improvisation and harmony. It could get nasty when contrary views arose, but they got me thinking more about the horn players perspective of figuring out notes to go over chords. (For those of you just tuning in, Im a drummer, so its taken me a while to get to that.) I had Porters book out from the library once before, a few years back, but I barely glanced at it then. And I think that was before I owned a computer.
I have also had Laura Nyros song Stoney End going around my head the last day or two. That owes a bit to the Steve Hoffman forum, which has hooked me in during the last few months. Just as there are online forums where you can go if you think were headed for victory in Iraq, you can come away from Hoffmans site thinking that a vinyl pressing thats been unavailable since 1968 was the height of audiophile accomplishment. Someones comment there about Nyros first album led me to dig it out, though. I bought it in 2002 and only listened to it a bit before filing it. It has some beautiful songs.
Or there was the Rush concert a few weeks ago. Rush, unlike most bands you will find in the news or reviews sections here, does not change their show much from night to night. Thanks to DIME, it was the first time I went to a show knowing almost all of what would be happening between 7:30 and 11 PM. It was not a bad thing, though. Without the distraction of wondering whether they would or wouldnt play a certain song, I was able to follow the details of their playing a bit more.
Of course, it is likely that a month or two from now I may be in a patch when the Internets information overload is distracting rather than enriching, when its inclusiveness enables too much destruction. My suspicion, though, is that the Internet complaints are expressing the same feeling that was widespread long before computers the feeling that day-to-day life is providing too much information and too few chances to relax and absorb. And I suspect that I am not the only one whos had the chance to experience slow times and found the benefits to be overrated.
My main reaction, though, is to wonder what invention is going to leave people looking back twenty years from now at the good old uncomplicated 2000s.