Sunday, April 22, 2012

This is your brain on the Internet

If I had been born 30 years later, I surely would have blue highlights in my hair, and probably would have been diagnosed with Attention Deficit Disorder. In my day, I called it a short attention span. Maybe the proper name for it now is Internet Brain.

Waiting at a doctor's receptionist's desk, we heard the woman in front of us say, “I can't make another appointment. I don't have my planner with me.”

My husband whispered, “She writes things down?” and we smiled. I already had my phone open to the calendar application. As soon as I had the next appointment booked, I could have logged into my email account from any computer in the world and checked the date.

I love the Internet, but I love reading books, too. Every time I move to a different house, I purge my book collection. Books are just too heavy to move; they take up too much room. Every book I buy on Kindle is held, weightlessly, on a server somewhere, seconds away from my summoning.

Here are the advantages of physical books, according to Nicholas Carr in The Shallows: What the Internet Is Doing to Our Brains:

“You can take a book to the beach without worrying about sand getting in its works. You can take it to bed without being nervous about it falling to the floor should you nod off. You can spill coffee on it. You can sit on it. You can put it down on a table, open to the page you’re reading, and when you pick it up a few days later it will still be exactly as you left it. You never have to be concerned about plugging a book into an outlet or having its battery die.”

Seriously, Mr. Carr? Last night, back aching from the day's activities, I lay flat on my back, reading your book. On my iPhone. My arms didn't tire, and I didn't drop it on my nose. And when I turned it on after an interruption, it brought me right back where I left off.

Was America ever a country full of “deep” readers? An evening walk around the block when I was a teenager revealed the same phenomenon as it does now: a warm, flickering glow in the window of almost every home. America is watching television, or it is on the Internet. The only ethical differences are the laws restricting content. I worry more about the ready availability of pornography than I do about the effect the Internet has on the human brain.

As Carr says, “Google is neither God nor Satan.”

We are only victims if we choose to be. Am I naïve?

Hey Marcia,
We are only victims if we choose to be--as long as we know that we're making a choice.

I, too, prefer to read my bedtime book on my iPhone. It's much lighter, backlit, and I only rarely lose my place and have to go scrolling through pages to find where I left off.
I don't think Mr. Carr is talking about reading a digital book as opposed to a paper book so much as he deplores the loss of linear thinking. Come to think of it, maybe linear thinking isn't all it's cracked up to be. 
But he does give it the credit for the imagination of the Renaissance, the rational of the Enlightenment, the inventiveness of the Industrial Revolution and the subversiveness of Modernism. (put that all in quotation marks, please.)
The "fear" if we can call it that, is that these marvelously developed linear minds, with the capacity for focused calm and deliberate pondering, are being traded in for dis-jointed thoughts and over-lapping input which short each other out. 
Now, since I wrote that paragraph, my daughter has texted. I've responded and with two taps have sent her a phone number she needed. Oh, this Net stuff is marvelous and I shudder to think we would ever go back.
You have a point about watching tv, though. People watch tv more than they read. That has been going on for a good while. Now they watch Jane Austen and believe they've "read" her.
The very guy who invented the amplifier which made broadcasting possible wrote, in 1952:
"A melancholy view of our national mental level is obtained from a survey of the moronic quality of the majority of today's radio programs." --deForest
Are we doomed to being reduced to the lowest common denominator? Might not linear thinking and a little reading be a hopeful alternative to moronic broadcasters?
We may only be victims of our choices, but do we know the consequences of our choices?

1 comment:

  1. I admit...I'm the guilty one! I have watched "Jane Eyre", "Pride and Prejudice", and many other such classics, but have not read them. Why?

    First, I am a visual learner. Yes, I know that you can visualize a well-written story in your mind...but, it's not the same to me.

    Second, I have had so little time to read in the last few years, since I've been homeschooling. I also have a multiplicity of things to do and places to be in this world. Most are related to homemaking. So, instead of being ignorant of the classics, I don't mind watching them as opposed to having no knowledge of them at all. I do plan to read them...probably on my 3,500 classics app on my iPad! And take notes, too...

    It's also a source of relaxation and rejuvenation to me...instead of watching mindless comedies, or off-color romances, I can be carried away into another world (but, a realistic one), and enjoy someone else's trials and triumphs. I love to study people, and this is a good way to do it.

    Thirdly, when I read a book (and I am in the midst of at least four right now), it is usually non-fiction. I read for information, knowledge and inspiration.

    So, there you have it...a view from the other side.

    You two are great at this! I'll try to stop by on occasion and comment...I do hope you don't mind.

    Now, back to composing my last few posts in the A to Z Blogging Challenge. I'd love you both to stop by in the next few days and comment on one that catches your eye. Why do I do it? For writing practice, to meet other likeminded people, and, most importantly, to encourage and enlighten others. To me, that's the only reason to be on the Internet!