How has the Internet Changed the Way You Think?

Every year, John Brockman, a New York based author, editor, publisher, and book agent, reaches out to a community of thought leaders and scientists and asks a question for his World Question Center.

Brockman’s 2010 question, How has the internet changed the way you think? evoked thoughtful answers from a range of people, including Brian Eno, Rudy Rucker, Clay Shirky, Martin Rees and many others. The full collection of posts can be found here.

I took the opportunity to explore the tension between my physical and virtual lives. A topic Jim Stogdill wrote about a few days ago.


Before the Internet, I made more trips to the library and more phone calls. I read more books and my point of view was narrower and less informed. I walked more, biked more, hiked more, and played more. I made love more often.

The seductive online sages, scholars, and muses that joyfully take my curious mind where ever it needs to go, where ever it can imagine going, whenever it wants, are beguiling. All my beloved screens offer infinite, charming, playful, powerful, informative, social windows into global human experience.

The Internet, the online virtual universe, is my jungle gym and I swing from bar to bar: learning about: how writing can be either isolating or social; DIY Drones (unmanned aerial vehicles) at a Maker Faire; where to find a quantified self meetup; or how to make Sach moan sngo num pachok. I can use image search to look up hope or success or play. I can find a video on virtually anything; I learned how to safely open a young Thai coconut from this Internet of wonder.

As I stare out my window, at the unusually beautiful Seattle weather, I realize, I haven’t been out to walk yet today — sweet Internet juices still dripping down my chin. I’ll mind the clock now, so I can emerge back into the physical world.

The physical world is where I not only see, I also feel — a friend’s loving gaze in conversation; the movement of my arms and legs and the breeze on my face as I walk outside; and the company of friends for a game night and potluck dinner. The Internet supports my thinking and the physical world supports that, as well as, rich sensing and feeling experiences.

It’s no accident we’re a culture increasingly obsessed with the Food Network and Farmer’s Markets — they engage our senses and bring us together with others.

How has the Internet changed my thinking? The more I’ve loved and known it, the clearer the contrast, the more intense the tension between a physical life and a virtual life. The Internet stole my body, now a lifeless form hunched in front of a glowing screen. My senses dulled as my greedy mind became one with the global brain we call the Internet.

I am confident that I can find out about nearly anything online and also confident that in my time offline, I can be more fully alive. The only tool I’ve found for this balancing act is intention.

The sense of contrast between my online and offline lives has turned me back toward prizing the pleasures of the physical world. I now move with more resolve between each of these worlds, choosing one, then the other — surrendering neither.

How has the internet changed the way you think?

  • Bob MacNeal

    I am with you when you say:
    “The Internet stole my body, now a lifeless form hunched in front of a glowing screen. My senses dulled as my greedy mind became one with the global brain we call the Internet.”

    The Internet has changed my thinking about my ability to reach out to people, and about one’s ability to build communities and to influence incremental change.

    My Internet persona is more self-assured than my physical presence. Through the web I nurture online communities – even though community organizing in the traditional physical world sense was never strength.

  • Waltzzz

    Listening to podcasts while walking & mobile Internet lead to the end of this body cripelling phase.

  • Laura Cococcia

    Such a struggle – I have a love / hate relationship with the Internet – it’s brought me conveniences, helped me think big – but searching and reading on the Internet is something I could lose hours in. And I don’t want to lose hours. Definitely a choice that I need to consciously make. So well put Linda!

  • Simon Hay

    The internet is the staircase to the world. I only have to keep climbing and step onto the stage. Unreachable is strangled and the impossible is in sight. I want to change the world, I want to show case human potential, the power to heal, and if I harness the ethereal beast, the transcendent forum, the podium is mine.


  • Lior

    Beautifully written.

  • Jason

    Wow, nothing that deep for me. The Internet has changed my thinking in different ways. I find myself saying “omg you just got pwnt” and “lolwut” in real life as much as on the good ol’ tubes. I do vastly prefer the Internet to real life though, with the exception of my fiance.

  • Dale

    This is well-written prose! Are you sure you’re not a poet? :) You have inspired me to unplug and go outside and play with my dog, Ruby. As someone who makes his living in front of a computer at home, I really appreciate this column.

  • John

    Thank you for your writing! I never came to the idea to think about how Internet has changed my life.
    Its easier to communicate with people over the net but its not always better! Luckily the Internet makes people not only lazier. I found my physical activities again by geocaching, which is offered by the Internet!
    All over, everything ca be a drug, its all a question of how much you consume from it.

  • Nicole

    The internet has changed the way I think because I mostly think about the internet. School and classes have evolved into a virtual sense. I can get in touch with my professors by sending a quick email. I don’t have to waste class time taking a quiz when I can online before class. I can now type up all my papers so professors don’t have to second-guess my handwriting and to make sure I don’t write too big to take up more room. I rarely do have time for the outdoors anymore. It seems the only time I spend outside is walking to where I need to go or my car. It used to be the outdoors was used for recreational purposes but even that can be done virtually. Not only has the internet changed the way I think but it has also changed my everyday life. Majority of my day is spent in front of a computer on the internet. There is an application for essentially anything you could possibly want and you can do basically everything on the internet or virtually. If we aren’t careful the internet will consume us if it hasn’t already.

  • Holly

    True, and i fully agree