Saturday, June 21, 2008

Surfing & Plastic Brains



A smart piece by Nicholas Carr in The Atlantic asks whether the internet is changing the way we think, curtailing our appetite for books and deep reading - and in the process, re-wiring our plastic brains to fit the skimming approach that typifies the experience of web-surfing, blogging and googling to meet immediate information needs. Even adults have amazing plasticity and may be experiencing significant changes in cognitive style - faster, easily distracted, somewhat superficial.

Carr gives an interesting example of the impact of technology on our brains - how Nietzsche's writing changed dramatically when declining vision forced him to use a typewriter. Marshall McLuhan, in Carr's words here, "pointed out that media are not just passive channels of information. They supply the stuff of thought, but they also shape the process of thought."

Carr acknowledges the plus-side of the equation - the greater speed of research and the much more widely available information accessible to internet users. But he says we overlook the downside of technology, and ought to consider the social implications of rapid and pervasive changes in the way human beings think.

Another example:

Scott Karp, who writes a blog about online media, recently confessed that he has stopped reading books altogether. “I was a lit major in college, and used to be [a] voracious book reader,” he wrote. “What happened?” He speculates on the answer: “What if I do all my reading on the web not so much because the way I read has changed, i.e. I’m just seeking convenience, but because the way I THINK has changed?”
For myself, I know that you are skimming this piece - that I need to make my point and get out. And so I practice brevity - a big change for me.

I need to get this done before you decide to move on...

Are you still here?

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posted at 9:52:00 AM by Neil

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