What the Internet Is Doing to Our Brains

David Brooks, in his column The Medium Is the Medium takes a hard look at the writing of Nicholas Carr. Carr, in his book The Shadows, argues that the Internet is leading to a short-attention-span culture. The internet is fundamentally changing the way that we think and learn — for the worse.

Carr’s book was based from an article he wrote in The Atlantic “Is Google Making Us Stupid?” As he puts it, the ease of distraction is not only taking away from book reading, but really from the ability to sit down and pay attention to one thing at a time.

Brooks takes a step back from Carr’s more one sided view and points to the role that two different types of learning and consuming of information has in our culture. The internet has become the newspaper and the office water cooler wrapped into one. Immediate news and information — whether it is accurate or not — and an immediate forum for feedback — to people who you know or don’t. But the speed of the interaction prohibits the pause for reflection and depth that older forms of media embody.

As Brooks puts it, “The Internet culture may produce better conversationalists, but the literary culture still produces better students.”

But taking it a step further, Brooks concludes, “It could be that the real debate will not be books versus the Internet but how to build an Internet counterculture that will better attract people to serious learning.”

The internet counterculture which will attract serious learning is a challenging proposition. When we can actually switch between Facebook and The New York Times, between Twitter and the novel that we are reading on our iPad’s Kindle platform, it is all too easy to abandon thoughtfulness and learning for the transitory joy of new media stimulation.

It’s up to us, with the necessary self control, industriousness, discipline, and poise, to instill this “old world” thoughtfulness into ourselves and the world around us.

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