In it Clay Shirky responds to Nick Carr and others who worry that “the internet is making us dumber”. But I think to some extent Shirky misidentifies the concerns of the “dumber” camp (and certainly says nothing about making us smarter) although he does address some important issues.
Carr and his ilk worry about the impact of web-based media on our reading habits and attention spans, and although I think that the evidence they cite is questionable I can’t really deny that their concerns about a potential issue may be legitimate.
Shirky looks instead at the concerns about quailty of content being drowned in a flood of garbage, which are also commonly expressed but not really as “the case for digitally-driven stupidity”.
What I think is most useful in Shirky’s article is his claim that we will address the abundance issue by “invent(ing) cultural norms that do for the Internet’s abundance what the intellectuals of the 17th century did for print”. This is already happening (via “like this” buttons, “people who bought this also bought that” recommendations, and other reputation management schemes) but Shirky is right to draw attention to it as something that still needs work.
Addendum (June 13): Stephen Pinker does a better job of addressing the actual question of effects on intelligence.
Update (Aug 13) the Globe and Mail published a comparative review by Anthony Williams of Carr and Shirky’s books on July 16, and also, on Aug 4, republished (from LA Times) ‘The Digital Alarmists Are Wrong’ by Christopher Chabris and Daniel Simons