The internet is great – but not for detailed devouring

Mutiny Festival 2017 Picture: Paul Windsor

Keep children safe – but beware the nanny state

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What does LOL mean?’ texts my 62-year-old mum.

Good question mother. When we’ve cleared up the laugh out loud/lots of love quandary, we’ll move on to G2G and other daft acronyms that threaten to strangle the life out of our beautiful old language.

Of course, teenagers must be automatically programmed to understand these things.

Perhaps it’s wired into their hard-drives to allow their ever-expanding brains to get updated remotely while they sleep.

It would explain a lot. Particularly the fact that they tend to think they know it all, and that being past 25 makes you automatically wrong. About everything.

But are their tech-savvy ways and reliance on text speak and computers all signs of a problem more worrying than just the fact that the rest of us get left behind?

Earlier this month we waved goodbye to the printed version of the Encyclopedia Britannica for good. Having never known anyone who owned one, let alone the full set, I can’t claim it will leave a gaping hole in my life.

But it does symbolise a shift in our approach to learning and the value of knowledge. While the encyclopedia will still be available online, the internet is broadly used to skim and scan. How will we devour or delve without reference books?

That’s why there’s something wrong with children using the internet in school lessons. It’s not just because I’m jealous. Although the fact that my own IT lessons involved sharing one computer between the whole school might have coloured my opinion a little.

Progress is pretty neat in most cases. Yet there does need to be a careful blending of old and new – and that involves books and seeking out the answers for ourselves, rather than relying on the internet to do all the hard work.

It took humans thousands of years to evolve the skills needed to use our hands to write and our brains to communicate via speech.

If we’re not careful, it will take us less than half a century to put us right back to where we started – mute, bar the odd grunt, as we finger-jab at our iPhones.