What is the Net doing to your brain?

A couple of years ago I heard an NPR interview (which I'm sure you can find using a quick web-search) with an author named Nicholas Carr discussing his (then) new book, The Shallows: What the Internet is doing to our Brains.  I must say that his basic thesis was distressing, and yet also had the "ring of truth" when I considered my own use of the web and that of the those around me (mostly college students at that time).  I put the book on my Amazon wishlist and eventually ordered a nice used hardback.

Over the last few weeks I read it.  Though generally a slow reader myself, I found this to be a quick read (especially for what may be the first book on neuroscience I've ever attempted), and more than that this book has literally changed my life.  I've noticed for years that I've been getting more "scatter-brained."  I'd assumed that this was simply part of the ageing process or (scary thought) the first hints of some early-onset dementia.  Since reading Carr's well-researched book I'm convinced that I'm feeling more scatter-brained precisely because my online habits have actually been reinforcing "scattered" thinking and attention.

I say that the book has changed my life because I've intentionally spent less time on the web - and social media in particular - since finishing this book.  So far I am quite pleased with this change.  It is surprising how quickly that feeling that "I'm missing something" subsides after you quit checking Facebook for a few days.  Instead I've been able to spend more time book-reading.

Some argue that the web makes us smarter and more creative.  They may have some evidence to support this (which Carr examines): without a doubt the web does help with certain kinds of mental activity.  But while the web encourages some mental activities, it actually weakens others: the processes in the brain connected with memory (especially long-term memory formation), concentration, reflection, attention, and contemplation (of particular interest to me as a pastor) all become weaker through constant internet use.
In short we are becoming shallower thinkers and it is more difficult for us to gain wisdom, especially since (researchers have learned) long-term memory actually plays a crucial role in wisdom and character-building.  
If someone were looking for evidence as to whether the web has indeed had a wide-scale deleterious effect upon our collective wisdom and our collective ability to think deeply, I suggest that the 2016 election process - from the primaries onward - stands as "exhibit A."

My advice to you: read this book.  Read it as soon as you can.

Below is a video that introduces some of the basic concepts, but with a five minute video you cannot begin to capture the detail, the charm, and the sheer persuasiveness of the book itself.

Plus, 5 minutes may be a stretch to our "online attention span".

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