Friday, January 22, 2010

Thinking through the web

This Newsweek article summarizes the opinion of 109 philosophers, neurobiologists, and other scholars answered, "How is the Internet changing the way you think?"

I find the summary skewed on the subject it is talking about: human's relation with the internet. The article misses the fact that most of us are still illiterate when it comes to relating to the web. We have all sorts of agenda to cultivate a relationship, or even to care to start one, with the internet. Businessmen/women use the internet to earn more money; Unmarried people use it to find their partner; Friends jump into it to keep in touch with each other, etc.

Now here is what the article lacks. The article wants to find out 'how the internet changes the way we think?', but this pursue does not address the more important question: How can we think through the internet?

The former question places human in the passive position where we are mere uncritical consumers that take in whatever hyperlink we happen to click. Hence the question it addresses is very limited and partial in scope. The latter question which I raised places human in the active position where we are consciously relating to the web.

The other day during my family group session in Trinity Theological College, Roland Chia shared with us his thoughts on the blogging phenomena. He has trivial view on bloggers or blog-readers for spending so much time blogging and reading blogs. He rhetorically asked us, "Would you spend time to read Pannenberg or blogs?"

It is undeniable that Roland has a good point to make, but I think he made that point by assuming human's relation to the web as passive (the view probably shared by Sharon Begley, the author of the Newsweek's article).

On my part, the internet provides not only the platform for the flow of information but also the space to develop thoughts. The web is the medium for our invisible thought to come into being. An obvious example is 'blogging'.

Blogging is basically writing. And the act of writing itself is making concrete the invisible thoughts floating in our mind (those who are familiar with philosophy of language would know that this is the representational school of thought). And most of the time humans interact with each others' thoughts through words. This shows that the best binding way to vivify human's thoughts is through written words (a practical example is 'contracts'). With this in mind, blogging is simply an exercise of vivifying one's thoughts; to put a more phenomenological tone to it, blogging is a process of thinking that vivifies thoughts by relating to the web. The internet, therefore, becomes the ground for the formation and development of thoughts. And this is especially so when one blogs on the naked web, making it available to be critiqued by, interacted with, and benefited to other bloggers and blog-readers. (Private blogs are of course a different issue)

Besides, the matter of clicking whichever hyperlinks to acquire whichever information is not a problem as this happens all the time in library as well. It is a matter of how one assesses one's sources. Here again, I hope you may see the contrast between the Newsweek's passive view on human and the contrasting active view on human which I highlighted.

We have no doubt that a blogger can blog about anything under the sun. So it is very much depend on how the blogger blogs. In other words, our thinking process is not passive and should not be left to be so. Romans 12.1-2, "be transformed by the renewal of your mind", stands over the passive view on human's thought development. (Newsweek itself wants you to be what you read from them). Instead of viewing ourselves as the undiscerning consumer who gorges at everything appear on our computer screen, we can educate ourselves to build our thinking through the web. It is not so much an issue of what you blog, but how you blog. In the same way, our current state of information technology is not so much the web relates us to itself, but how we relate to the web ourself.


blogpastor said...

I agree with you that blogging is writing online. The process clarifies, crystallizes, stimulates our thinking and the conversation with others challenges our assumptions and convictions. We deepen in our belief and worldview. In your words we think and breathe through the internet.

Sze Zeng said...

Hi Kenny,

Thank you for your comment. We are on the same wave-length on this one :)