On attention spans and, um, other things I can’t remember
Nicholas Carr was on The Colbert Report last night promoting his book, The Shallows: What the Internet Is Doing to Our Brains. He previously published an article in The Atlantic on the same topic, “Is Google Making Us Stupid?” In a recent WSJ article, “Does the Internet Make You Dumber?” (are you sensing a pattern developing?) Carr cites Seneca as saying, “To be everywhere is to be nowhere.”
Carr suggests that the Internet has shortened our attention spans, and the habit of skimming and scanning (Garrison Keillor has said, “On the Internet we’re all hummingbirds.”) has changed our brains on the cellular level, since the human brain adapts itself to its environment. Over time, we are irreversibly changed.
I think he’s totally right. I can see the effects of this in my own life, in my reading habits and my daily activities. I flit about the house from task to task. I STILL haven’t finished The Things They Carried, though it’s a lovely, gripping book, but I have so many magazines to browse through, and ants have been cutting through my kitchen, so I spend a lot of time murdering them with an all-purpose cleaner, and I occasionally move things around my house in a parody of tidying up, and oh, a crossword puzzle!
Relatedly, Jan Swafford makes a bold prediction about the future of e-books and reading. Perhaps there’s hope for us all yet.