Thinking About “The Shallows: What the Internet Is Doing to Our Brains”

I finally finished reading the “The Shallows: What the Internet is Doing to Our Brains” by Nicholas G. Carr. I had the opportunity to hear him speak in person at the Commonwealth Club of San Francisco in June, 2010.  He was being interviewed by Peter Norvig, who is the Director of Research at Google.  The choice of interviewer was no doubt inspired by Nicholas Carr’s article in the Atlantic Monthly entitled, “Is Google Making Us Stupid?” I also had it autographed by the author, which always makes for a fun addition to my collection.

I would definitely say that I have a mixed opinion of the book. I thought it was interesting and definitely valuable in that it made me stop and think about how I interact with the Internet, and how my use of it is affecting my ability to concentrate. I definitely find it easier to read from print than from a screen, and I notice that I do skim when reading online. Interestingly enough, this seems to be the way that I, and probably many others, traditionally read hard-print newspapers and magazines. One thing I noticed with the Internet is that it I am constantly tempted to click on something else. However, is this due to the design of the Internet, or is it due to something within me that says, “maybe this link has something more interesting (and hence more gratifying) than what I’m looking at right now?” In other words, is it the nature of the Internet, or is it an anxious, “the grass is always greener on the other side of the fence” mentality? Or could it be, as Mr. Carr states in his book, that the structure of the Internet is re-wiring my brain as I use it? Or perhaps, the Internet’s structure hooks into the lower-functioning part of the brain that is geared to respond to stimuli.  In other words, the Internet – or to be more precise, use of the Internet – triggers a primal response in humans that is not useful in the Information Age.

Read More

Thoughts About Reading (and Writing)

Today I read a very interesting article in the Sacramento Bee about the fear among experts that people are losing the ability for in-depth reading.  This is due to the rise of digital media, which people process differently than traditional print media.  One of my favorite quotes in this article is from Canadian author John Miedema, who says that “the Web is essentially a distraction machine.”  Each page of the Internet is filled with clickable links, all vying for the user’s attention.  In a sense, each hyperlink is a kind of flashing sign, saying “pick me, pick me!”  Nicholas Carr makes the point that each link causes our brain to stop and decide whether or not to click on the link.  Since our brain is forced to engage in the decision-making process, it can’t focus on the written material at hand.  The brain is multitasking and is not able to absorb the information that it ostensibly went to a web-page to find.

Read More