‘Bit Culture’ and the Benefits of Distraction

The inform­a­tion con­sump­tion habits of many in the young­er generations–one fea­ture of the ‘Inter­net inform­a­tion culture’–has many mer­its, des­pite its many detract­ors. So says Ban Cas­nocha in an art­icle for The Amer­ic­an that acts as both a review of Tyler Cowen’s Cre­ate Your Own Eco­nomy and a fairly pos­it­ive and com­pre­hens­ive over­view of the “bit cul­ture” and its affects on atten­tion and learn­ing.

Cas­nocha begins with a look at his own media con­sump­tion habits (that closely mir­rors mine and, no doubt, many of yours, too) and a couple of the­or­ies for explain­ing this style:

The first is eco­nom­ic: when cul­ture is free and a click away, as it is on blogs and Twit­ter and the broad­er Inter­net, we sample broadly and con­sume it in smal­ler chunks: “When access is easy, we tend to favor the short, the sweet, and the bitty. When access is dif­fi­cult, we tend to look for large-scale pro­duc­tions, extra­vag­an­zas, and mas­ter­pieces,” […]

The second reas­on is the intel­lec­tu­al and emo­tion­al stim­u­la­tion we exper­i­ence by assem­bling a cus­tom stream of bits. Cowen refers to this pro­cess as the “daily self-assembly of syn­thet­ic exper­i­ences.” My inputs appear a chaot­ic jumble of scattered inform­a­tion but to me they touch all my interest points. When I con­sume them as a blend, I see all-import­ant con­nec­tions between the dif­fer­ent intel­lec­tu­al nar­rat­ives I fol­low […]

When skep­tics make sweep­ing neg­at­ive claims about how the Web affects cog­ni­tion, they are for­get­ting the people whose nat­ur­al tend­en­cies and strengths blos­som in an inform­a­tion-rich envir­on­ment. Cowen’s over­rid­ing point, delivered in a “can’t we all just get along” spir­it, is that every­one pro­cesses the stim­uli of the world dif­fer­ently. Every­one deploys atten­tion in their own way. We should embrace the new tools—even if we do not per­son­ally bene­fit— that allow the infovores among us to per­form tasks effect­ively and acquire know­ledge rap­idly.