I feel a little bit guilty saying this: every time I write about Jonah Lehrer, it seems to be about jumping on his ideas, even though I think he’s a good writer and his other ideas, the ones I don’t carp about, are interesting. The last time was when I criticized his noise about how science is falling, and now he’s gotten on the “The internet is making us stupider” bandwagon. I think it is a silly argument; it’s essentially saying that making the exchange of ideas more free leads to greater ignorance about the diversity of opinions out there.
It’s just not true. I’m an admitted lefty liberal type, but one thing the internet has done is made it possible for me to see what righty rethuglicans are saying, and I do read them…usually so I can point and laugh, but still, I’m more aware of the range of ideas fermenting in American culture than I was 20 years ago.
But I can stop picking on Lehrer now. John Hawks does a fabulous job of dismantling the argument. Letting the arguments bloom does not mean that we’re suddenly blinded!
Very tangentially related, I also recommend this fascinating analysis of the size of social networks. It argues that there are measurable cognitive limits to the size of social groupings primates can recognize, and it’s correlated with brain size. From our cranial capacity and studies of other primates, it’s predicted that we ought to be able to cope with roughly 150 friends at a time, and an analysis of social networks shows that that is actually about right — people on Twitter typically maintain interactive contact with between 100 and 200 people at most, and any more than that is overwhelming.
So I checked my Twitter account, and I see that I’m following precisely…167 people. I feel so average now.