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Book Review: Is the Internet Changing the Way You Think?: The Net's Impact on Our Minds and Future by John Brockman, ed.

Review by Nathan Seppa

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The Internet has grown into a social network, political forum, marketplace and entertainment source. In a series of essays, some noted thinkers opine on the Web’s effect from the neck up.

“The Internet has become an extension of my memory,” writes Daniel Everett, a college dean. “It combats the occasional senior moment, helping me to find names, facts, and places nearly instantly. It gives me a second, bigger brain.”

But the addition of bloggers makes the Internet more than a library, says computer scientist Jon Kleinberg. “The online world is one where human beings and computational creations commingle,” he writes. The result is like a Lewis Carroll character, “the giant creature who has memorized everything ever written and will repeat excerpts back to you (mainly out of context) in response to your questions.”

It’s distracting. “I now do the bulk of my reading and researching online,” writes author Nicholas Carr. “And my brain has changed as a result.… I have experienced a steady decay in my ability to sustain my attention.”

It can be creepy, too, writes Kleinberg. “There are the diaphanous forms, barely visible at the right-hand edge of your field of vision, who listen mutely as you cancel meetings and talk about staying home in bed and then mysteriously begin slipping you ads for cough medicine….”

The book would be an ambitious undertaking for any individual. By breaking up the task into more than 100 essays, Brockman gets witty treatment from a diverse crowd. 

Harper Perennial, 2011, 408 p., $14.99.

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