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

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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

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