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Are 'digital' and 'intellectual' compatible?

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Is the Internet compatible with what was once termed "the life of the mind"? Or do changing technologies demand transformations in the habits of contemplation and attention that have made possible particular kinds of intellectual life?

In the journal n+1, Benjamin Kunkel discusses three books that explore these questions (Naomi S. Baron, "Always On: Language in an Online and Mobile World"; Henry Jenkins, "Convergence Culture: Where Old and New Media Collide"; Lee Siegel, "Against the Machine: Being Human in the Age of the Electronic Mob"). While these authors' concerns are social, economic, and technological, Kunkel's interest lies in the personal experience of thinking, reading, and writing online.

"No logical reason exists why you couldn't be a thorough reader of both Proust and Gawker," he writes; "or couldn't exchange, by snail-mail, long, unbosoming letters with the same friend with whom you trade ticklishly glib text messages."

Trouble is, the Internet manifests itself as an object of compulsion, even addiction. "An inability to log off is hardly the most destructive habit you could acquire," he adds, "but it seems unlikely there is any more widespread compulsion among the professional middle-class and their children than lingering online."


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