Have you ever tasted a fresh strawberry? I’m not talking about the enormous grocery store variety; strawberries that have been grown in a greenhouse, bred to twice their normal size and almost hallow on the inside. I’m talking about the small morsels that when bitten release juice that runs down your lip and taste like the wild, uncontrolled, summertime earth that they came from. This weekend my son played in a baseball tournament in Okemos, Michigan. I was pleasantly surprised to find out the tourney was located at a small community park that was hosting a little Amish Farmers market as well as the baseball. All weekend, I was able to enjoy fresh, wild strawberries purchased from the Farmers Market while watching the baseball. It was divine, and several times I was compelled to think about the difference between this type of strawberry and the grocery store strawberry. They share the same name, but oh… they are so different.
In his piece, “Is Google Making Us Stupid”, Nicholas Carr compares the processes and levels of thinking accomplished by readers and writers both pre and post the age of hyperlinks, web-surfing and Google. Carr and others share anecdotes of no longer being able to “loose themselves” in novels or long pieces of literature such as War and Peace. Their brains become distracted, and move like a flash of electricity from one thought to another, much as they do when surfing the web or using a search engine such as Google. Carr quotes Sergey Brin and Larry Page, the young men who founded Google, mentioning frequently their desire to turn the search engine into an actual “artificial intelligence”, an “artificial brain that is smarter that our brains.” Carr argues that the kind of thinking that occurs when we imbibe in the sustained, undistracted reading of a book is deeper and more complex than the hyperactive, data- soaked, artificial thinking of the Net.
I agree with Carr, and think of the Net much like I do the grocery store strawberry. These artificially bred strawberries are great for making chocolate covered valentine treats, and for the 10 months of the year when fresh wild strawberries are not available. The net is irreplaceable for research, connecting with others socially, for skimming through larger than life amounts of information, and for reading tidbits of prose when large amounts of time are not available. Books, on the other hand, are like wild strawberries, delicious and layered and capable of taking ones mind to another place in time or space. Given that it is June, and the grass is green and fresh, the sky is blue and lazy, and life in general moves a little bit slower, I will savor as many wild strawberries (and books) as I can. The Net can wait for the winter.