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Warning: any further reading online could make you stoopid.

That’s the gist of an argument in this month’s Atlantic Monthly about Google, the Internet and its effect on our brains. It’s an interesting read, but a bit light on context. The “us” the author discusses is a relatively small cohort of self-described “knowledge workers” — writers, researchers, professors, artists, critics, who now sit in front of computers for a living. They fear they’re losing their attention spans and depth of thought as they skip from one hyperlink to another, surrounded by blinking ads, scrolling text and a thousand other distractions.

I suppose it’s possible, and likely. But it makes you wonder how powerfully they were able to concentrate in the first place and how deep their thoughts really were if their hard-won discipline is so easily undermined. Few people in history ever have had the patience to read thousands of pages per week. (Reading itself can be a bit of a pathology — substitute the act of reading for watching TV when you skim this particular diatribe about the boob tube. Somewhere on a shelf in a Virginia sits a copy of this book, my feverish notes covering many of its pages.)

The author of the Atlantic article, Nicholas Carr, offers a perceptive quote from Socrates, who was concerned about the invention of writing — there’s always someone to lament the advent of new technology. Socrates’ gripe was that writing offered a shortcut to knowledge. People would gain the conceit of wisdom without achieving true wisdom. However, Carr argues, Socrates failed to foresee the great improvements in the human condition that would come about because of writing.

Socrates’ greater point about wisdom still holds up. I doubt technology has ever been an impediment — or a facilitator — on the road to wisdom. People get it or they don’t, no matter how many speeches they hear, books they read or web sites they visit. Technology just makes it easier to seem less dumb.

A friend of mine in a state that voted before PA warned me that I’d be burned out on the presidential race after the primary. He was right. It’s not worth following right now. It’s all about the horse race and the strategery, and I guess it will be for the next six months. Barack Obama has failed, in some respects, to move the media conversation off its sinking foundation in poll numbers, public gaffes and explosive preachers. Oh well.

I can’t complain too much, since I engaged in a little horse-racery myself. But we seem to have suffused the entire presidential process in a cynical brew. When John McCain denounces a negative ad, he’s seen as employing a backhanded trick to keep the ad in the news while keeping his own distance from it.

It’s probably ever been thus. Politicians are human and humans aren’t exactly the noblest of breeds, though we fight pretty hard sometimes to do good things. However, the crises do seem to be piling up pretty thick at the moment, from high fuel prices to food shortages to global warming to an unfinished war to nuclear terrorism (this site graciously lets you imagine the consequences of a bomb in your own hometown!).

Maybe it would be too much to ask people to pay significant attention to the bad stuff. Still, it’s no accident that the stories dominating headlines before 9/11 were about shark attacks and Gary Condit. We want to hear about a disaster only as long as it’s happening to other people, not to ourselves. The major media, safe in their NY/DC bubbles, are as insulated as our politicians, but not any more prone to seeking insulation than the rest of us.

I doubt that people whose homes have been hit by a tornado turn on the TV news to watch the aftermath — at least for now.