Book Review: What Is the Internet Doing to Our Brains?

I’m up late working, I’m a little hungry, and I’ve been fighting with my email program all day.  I also just finished reading The Shallows: What the Internet is Doing to Our Brains by Nicholas Carr.  I started reading expecting the news to be all bad, but the book shows a fairly balanced view of the benefits and pitfalls of the information age.

It turns out that the demands that modern technology places on us and our bodies (for that is where cognition and memory lives) is complex, but not unique.  Our ancestors were also changed profoundly by the introduction of technologies like – brace yourself  here – the wristwatch and the map.  What is cool is that we now have the technology, through MRIs and modern science, to understand that changes are being made to the way our brains operate biologically as we shift our information consumption habits.

Carr makes the case that:

  • we are more like jet-ski skimmers today than scuba divers of the past
  • we are learning staccato, non-linear patterns of processing through our interaction with the net and hypertext
  • we become skilled online hunters, but we lose the ability for “deep reading”
  • the natural state of the human brain is one of distractedness
  • we are replacing core, firsthand knowledge with an “outboard brain”
  • we are undisputedly losing memory skills through disuse, poor nutrition, and lack of sleep

There is a reason many of us spend the day muttering, “Now what was I just doing?”

Many of my clients are ADD or are concerned they might be.  In fact, I believe that many of us are situationally ADD, unable to focus on important aspects of our lives and relationships to a level that brings us satisfaction.  Carr makes the case that we are approaching a time when those who make time for reflection and mental downtime will be considered the “Reading Class” and societal elite.

Carr neither diagnoses society’s infatuation with instant everything, nor does he prescribe a cure for our rapidly decreasing attention spans.  What he does is provide some perspective that while change is inevitable, we can chose the level of interaction we allow.  We can make our own space for quiet reflection.  And by paying attention, we can make time to think about how we think, strengthening our thought processes.

Carr’s book builds on the premise of another book I read recently, called How We Decide by Jonah Lehrer.  Both books can be summarized into a credo: thinking about thinking matters.  What do you think about that?

The Shallows by Nicholas Carr book review pin

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