The Internet is not changing the way I think (nor, so far as I am concerned, the way anyone else thinks, either, but that is not theÂ EdgeÂ question). To state the matter somewhat naively, I continue to think the same way I always thought: by using my brain, my five (or six) senses, and by considering the relevant available information. I mean, how else can you think?
What it has changed for me is my use of time. The Internet is simultaneously the world's greatest time-saver and the greatest time-waster in history. As a time-saver, I'm reduced to stating the obvious: the Web embodies practically the whole of human knowledge, and most of it's only a mouse click away. An archive search that in the past might have taken a week, plus thousands of miles of travel, can now be done at blitz speeds in the privacy of your own home or office. Etcetera.
The flip side, however, is that the Internet is also the world's greatest time sink. This was explicitly acknowledged as a goal by the two twenty-something developers of one of the famous Web sites or browsers or search engines, I forget which (it may have been Yahoo), who once jocularly said: "We developed this thing so that you don't have to waste time to start wasting time. Now you can start wasting time right away."
As indeed you can. In the newsprint age, I studiously avoided reading the papers on the dual grounds that (a) the news from day to day is pretty much the same ("renewed fighting in Bosnia," "suicide bomber kills X people in Y city"), and (b) in most cases you can do absolutely nothing about it anyway. Besides, it's depressing.
These days, though, while the news content remains exactly the same as before, I am a regular reader of the New York Times online, plus of course Google News, plus my local paper. Plus I check the stock market many times daily, plus the weather, the Doppler radar, blogs, where I sometimes get into stupid, mind-sapping, time-eating flame wars, read the listserves that I subscribe to, check out Miata.net for any spiffy new Miata products or automotive gossip, deal with my e-mailâ€¦and this doesn't even half cover the Homeric catalog of Internet ships that I sail on from day to day.
Of course I don't have to do any of this stuff. No one forces me to. I can only blame myself.
Still, the Internet is so seductiveâ€”which is odd considering that it's so passive an agency. It doesn't actually do anything. It hasn't cured cancer, the common cold, or even hiccups.
The Internet is a miracle and a curse. Mostly a miracle.