The Internet … and the Brain

I’m a librarian. I spend inordinate amounts of time on the Internet at work, and then when I come home I log in to research important stuff, like whether it takes more gas to go to a restaurant 7 miles away using surface roads with lots of traffic lights, or using a freeway route that triples the distance. (My husband won that bet. Drats.)

So I’m interested when a couple of articles come my way suggesting that the Internet affects the way we think, and possibly even the physiology of our brains.

The first one was mentioned in a seminar I attended last week. Call me old-fashioned, I still like to go sit in a room with my peers and interact with actual people — we counted, we had 495 years of library experience in that room. How can you beat that?

The first article:

Carr, Nicholas. Is Google making us stupid? Atlantic Monthly, July/August 2008. Free at http://www.theatlantic.com/doc/200807/google

Carr reflects on the apparent impact of reliance on the Internet for our “food for thought.” Even though we may find ourselves reading more text on the Internet, the way we interact with that text, jumping from site to site, and article to article, affects our ability to read deeply, and to read longer materials. One of his sources notes that he can’t read War and Peace any more. Internet users tend to skim, and skip through articles, propelled to the next one by the hyperlinks that pass for footnotes. He cites a study noting that even when Internet users download longer materials for later reading, there is no evidence that they go back to read them. (Hmmm. I think those 75-page pdf files that have made their way into my “unused desktop icons” file are getting on to 2 years old now. )

I wonder if the Internet is a cause, or a consequence. Might this be one more sign of the increasing speed of the way we live? After reading 20th century authors like Hemingway, didn’t it seem like Dickens blathered on forever? And the 21st century has given us Twitter. Imagine War and Peace, 140 characters at a time.

So, check out the article, propelled by the link above. I know, 4 pages, who has time to read that? Maybe you can skim it. Or download it for reading later.

Oh, this is a LONG post. Coming soon, part 2: is blogging good for you?

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