IS THE INTERNET MAKING US STUPID? BILLY THORPE’S MOROCCAN ROLE MY SHERRY AMOR
IS THE WEB REWIRING OUR BRAINS AND KILLING OUR ABILITY TO CONCENTRATE? READ ON . . . IF YOU CAN THREE
years ago Nicholas Carr came to a startling conclusion: he no longer recognised his own brain. After a lifetime spent losing himself in long novels or wiling away entire afternoons exploring the twists and turns of complex arguments, Carr realised he’d lost the ability to concentrate. How could this happen? He blamed the internet. “When I sat down to read a book or a long article I found my mind wanting to jump around between diverse bits of information or I wanted to go and check email,” the American writer explains. “I began to realise my mind wanted to behave the way it behaved when I was online – in a very distracted way, skimming and scanning.”
It wasn’t the fog of middle age descending, making his thoughts slow and sluggish. In fact, the reverse was happening to his brain. “It was almost hyperactive, and it seemed my mind had to be trained to behave in this way by all the time I spent online,” he says.
The insight became the foundation for a six-page cover story in The Atlantic Monthly in mid-2008, provocatively titled “Is Google Making Us Stupid?’’ In a profound irony, he has now expanded his argument into a book, called The Shallows, which is filled with anecdotes from people whose brains are so addled from the web they claim they can no longer read books. He outlines a convincing case that the way we interact with the web is reshaping our neural pathways.
In the multi-tasking world of electronic communications our attention is constantly being diverted by email, status updates and hyperlinks that catapult our thoughts somewhere different. Our brains are hard-wired to detect and respond to new stimuli (an ability that saved our ancestors from being eaten by predators) so our natural inclination is to click on links or respond to messages. The cumulative effect of this is to make heavy net users easily distracted and addicted to seeking out new data rather than contemplating the meaning of the information they