Friday, May 28, 2010

What Kind of Brain is the Web Giving Us?

A recent Wired Magazine article, written by Nicholas Carr, looks at the effect of the internet on the human mind. In it he asks an interesting question:
"What kind of brain is the web giving us? That question will no doubt be the subject of a great deal of research in the years ahead. Already, though, there is much we know or can surmise—and the news is quite disturbing. Dozens of studies by psychologists, neurobiologists, and educators point to the same conclusion: When we go online, we enter an environment that promotes cursory reading, hurried and distracted thinking, and superficial learning. Even as the Internet grants us easy access to vast amounts of information, it is turning us into shallower thinkers, literally changing the structure of our brain."
He goes on to note a few studies done and statistics measured over the last 30 years. The research shows that are brains are actually changing. Here's his conclusion:
There’s nothing wrong with absorbing information quickly and in bits and pieces. We’ve always skimmed newspapers more than we’ve read them, and we routinely run our eyes over books and magazines to get the gist of a piece of writing and decide whether it warrants more thorough reading. The ability to scan and browse is as important as the ability to read deeply and think attentively. The problem is that skimming is becoming our dominant mode of thought. Once a means to an end, a way to identify information for further study, it’s becoming an end in itself—our preferred method of both learning and analysis. Dazzled by the Net’s treasures, we are blind to the damage we may be doing to our intellectual lives and even our culture.

What we’re experiencing is, in a metaphorical sense, a reversal of the early trajectory of civilization: We are evolving from cultivators of personal knowledge into hunters and gatherers in the electronic data forest. In the process, we seem fated to sacrifice much of what makes our minds so interesting.
I post this because I already can see how my reading comprehension and ability to focus over has drastically waned over the last 10 years. It even took me several tries to finish the article because of my mind kept wandering elsewhere. I don't know if this is just inevitable and we'll adapt accordingly, or if this is something we can control. In any case, it's worth thinking about.


1 comment:

  1. I don't know how you could measure how much it helps, but I've gotta think that limited quantities (no more than x hours per day, per week, whatever), a structured schedule (as far not the first thing you do in the morning, a certain time you get offline at night, etc.) and a mixture of other mediums for learning and leisure (reading books, getting out, etc.) - all those things have gotta help, right?