Remember the vintage ad campaign that warned against substance abuse with the slogan, “This is your brain. This is your brain on drugs?” You won’t find any images of eggs within the pages of Nicholas Carr’s The Shallows: What the Internet is Doing to Our Brains but you may come away from the experience wondering what other transformation analogies might apply. Not fried exactly but, according to Carr, perhaps still somewhat different.
The basic premise of the book is that the Internet is changing the way that we think, conditioning our brains to focus in very short increments before being compelled to move on to the next topic or activity. Much as one does when traveling about the web, checking e-mail, updating a status on a social networking site, or perusing the latest news, all in quick succession. Carr likens it to reading a book while doing a crossword puzzle, something that I’ve actually done recently if one counts Words with Friends.
No doubt one of the reasons I find this book so fascinating.
Carr suggests that the Internet is a medium that accommodates, and even encourages, self-interruption, a practice that eventually conspires to lessen the amount of time that is spent focusing on any one task. Instead, information is gleaned in small increments over very short periods of time. That pattern remains long after one is no longer on-line. See above re: reading a book and doing a crossword puzzle.
Years ago, some educators questioned the impact of bombarding toddlers with short bursts of information that was delivered in a highly entertaining way, proposing that it was conditioning them to expect, and perhaps even require, those same conditions when they encountered a conventional classroom. According to The Shallows, that same “plastic” quality applies to the adult brain. It can readily adapt to a new mode of thinking, ultimately resisting long, contemplative, or creative tasks.
It’s a provocative theory and one that we think any Internet user might enjoy exploring. In the interim, we’ve kept this entry short in case you’re feeling compelled to stop reading and check your e-mail or surf on over to the Anderson Interiors site. Or, you know, make that Words with Friends move. It could be your turn!
Have you read this book? Tell us what you think!