I’ve completed a first run-through of a chapter on the fate of long-form argument on the Internet. I say “run-through” and not even “draft” because I started off not knowing what I thought, where it was going, or how to get there. So, I’m quite confident that when I re-read it, I will discover that even if the chapter moves along ok sentence to sentence, paragraph to paragraph it will make no sense.

I’ve been writing boxed intros to each chapter, which I’m likely to take out afterwards. They’re more for me than for the reader, because readers shouldn’t need to be given a boxed intro to know why they’re reading what they’re reading; relying on them is lazy writing. Nevertheless, here’s what I have so far for this chapter.

The Nets continues where arguments end.
We’ve liked to think that we think through issues by digging deeper and deeper into our assumptions, until we come to some bedrock. Then we write up what we’ve learned, going in the other direction: establishing a foundation, and then building upon it, board by board, nail by nail. We are thus archeologists when thinking and carpenters when arguing.

The pinnacle of knowledge has been a structured presentation of a long-form argument — a book — that leads us step by step to a conclusion of import. And now we worry that the Net is destroying our attention span so that we can’t follow arguments long enough to reach responsible conclusions.

What is the Net doing to the long form of argument and to the knowledge that it derives?