Heading out the door recently for a workout session, I paused to grab some reading material—the July/August 2008 issue of The Atlantic magazine with its intriguing cover headline: “Is Google Making Us Stoopid?” Good thing I was stuck in one place while perusing the text, because my ability to focus on a single topic for long has been rather challenged of late.
Nicholas Carr’s article has a subtitle: “What the Internet is Doing to Our Brains.”
A quick Google search turns up all the information a researcher, whether casual or professional, could hope for, without the traditional trawling through archives or leafing through indices. Carr discusses the fact that with the ability to access nonstop information 24/7, habitual Internet users are developing a unique method of dealing with the overflow. Classic journalism theory holds (so I’m told) that a newspaper reporter tends to put the most compelling information in the first paragraph, since few readers will finish a longer article. On the Internet, with constant links leading deeper into the rabbit hole, readers seldom return to a web site to finish an article or blog post once a link takes them away. Even a particularly enticing first paragraph is not enough to focus the jaded surfer’s attention.
With constant headlines flashing past our eyes and distracting advertisements extolling the latest IQ test or makeover strategy, we’re losing the ability to concentrate on reading for more than a few moments before our brains demand a subject change.
Carr writes, “Over the past few years I’ve had an uncomfortable sense that someone, or something, has been tinkering with my brain, remapping the neural circuitry, reprogramming the memory.” He goes on to say that reading literature or even a full length magazine article is becoming more difficult even for academics who previously devoured works like War and Peace.
Is this really the future of reading? Losing the ability to sit down and read a full chapter of a biography or finally reach the end of that novel? I felt good about managing to reach the end of Carr’s cover story. If you made it to the end of this blog post, there may be hope for us yet.