Last night I went to a talk at a bookstore near my apartment. Nicholas Carr spoke about his new book, The Shallows: What the Internet is Doing to Our Brains. As the title indicates, The Shallows investigates the effects of Internet use on our brains, and considers how our growing and continual connection to and dependence on the Internet is shaping human thought. He traces different technological advancements which have changed the way we think—maps, clocks, books, and the Internet—and argues that each of these changed established modes of thought while creating new ideas about the aims and processes of intellectual endeavor.
Carr writes that the Internet urges us to think in “disconnected spurts,” and (paraphrasing from his talk) that this type of thinking may ultimately lead to humanity’s total inability to think deeply and at great length. Our minds are being trained to have the attention span of an easily-distracted puppy: five seconds on one thing, three on another, water dish, bouncing ball, pee, ball, smell this bush, dog cookie etc. etc.
Our current, and worsening, inability to concentrate will make our lives “flatter,” and, Carr says, may even make us “less human,” or at least less likely—and less able—to reflect on what it is to be human in the first place.
To combat our increasing inability to think competently and coherently for prolonged periods of time, Carr advises cutting back on technological dependence, limiting Internet, phone and email use, and he also advises practice: practice in concentration-heavy activities like reading, or writing (for more than 5 minutes at a time). I definitely agree with him about the practice, and needless to say I felt really guilty returning the few text messages that I received during his talk (I wasn’t in the same room with him so he didn’t see me doing it…). And he predicted a counter-cultural movement, similar to the one I wondered about just after New Year’s in a post on Lynn Neary’s article “How E-Books will Change Reading and Writing.”
Carr also said that since the recent studies in brain plasticity have revealed that the brain doesn’t stop changing and developing before one gets well into one’s 20s, as previously supposed, we’re actually changing the way our brain works (or at least changing the work to which our brain is most accustomed) by the way we think.
So by Carr’s argument, then, I think Internet use could be seen as a form of “brain damage.” Interesting. Maybe this will discourage me from using the Internet so often. I’ll think some more about that, after I check my email, and go on Facebook, and see if there are any new TV shows on netflix, and check the news to see what happened with Elena Kagan, and see where the nearest bike shop is so I can buy a tire pump for my bike, and look up tire pumps to see which kind is best and…