John Naughton, writing in the Guardian, has a nice piece about the reading revolution inspired by Gutenberg and the uncertain future of our online equivalents to the books we have held dear for several centuries.
Studies are noting how fleeting our attention has become, especially in our young folks. In terms of “total enlightenment” I actually favor the quick skim to the in-depth read because I believe retention is better for the short bits of information as well as better for the “key concepts” that you get quickly from surfing on a topic.
Thus if I read a carefully crafted work I’ll be moderately informed but then lose most of the information over the years, where if I jump around to 20 sources I’ll be similarly well-informed but will retain it better.
All that said, I’d agree with internet critics who suggest we may be losing our ability – to the extent it was ever there – to quietly and deeply reflect on topics. Also I’d agree we don’t know the consequences of this shift, though from the national dialog about politics, religion, and other things I’d say we aren’t really falling back or making much progress. We are a modestly contemplative primate, and we can’t escape that fate regardless of how we input the information.