Thursday, June 17, 2010

Internet Multitaskers as Suckers for Irrelevancy

I just read Nicholas Carr's "Chaos Theory" in this month's Wired. It's based on his highly reviewed new book The Shallows: What the Internet Is Doing to Our Brains. And what, exactly, does the Internet do to our brains? Here's the bullet points.

  • The neural pathways of experienced Web users develop because of their Internet use. This development is not all good. Using the Internet regularly changes brain activity dramatically.
  • "More brain activity is not necessarily better brain activity."
  • Digital technology "is rapidly and profoundly altering our brains."
  • Internet use shapes cursory reading, hurried and distracted thinking, and superficial learning. "Even as the Internet grants us easy access to vast amounts of information, it is turning us into shallower thinkers, literally changing the structure of our brain."
  • Concentration is disrupted and comprehension is weakened.
  • "Research continues to show that people who read linear text comprehend more, remember more, and learn more than those who read text peppered with links."
  • Internet use results in severe cognitive penalties.
  • The Web is not making us smarter.
  • "We’re exercising the neural circuits devoted to skimming and multitasking while ignoring those used for reading and thinking deeply."
  • Intensive multitaskers are “suckers for irrelevancy.” "Everything distracts them."
Reverse the deep-rooted fruits of contemplative and meditative people and behold the Internet Multitaskers.

Carr's work is important. See the blurbs below, from amazon.com.

***
 Nicholas Carr has written an important and timely book. See if you can stay off the web long enough to read it! (Elizabeth Kolbert, author of Field Notes from a Catastrophe: Man, Nature, and Climate Change )


Neither a tub-thumpingly alarmist jeremiad nor a breathlessly Panglossian ode to the digital self, Nicholas Carr’s The Shallows is a deeply thoughtful, surprising exploration of our “frenzied” psyches in the age of the Internet. Whether you do it in pixels or pages, read this book. (Tom Vanderbilt, author, Traffic: Why We Drive the Way We Do (and What It Says About Us) )

Nicholas Carr carefully examines the most important topic in contemporary culture—the mental and social transformation created by our new electronic environment. Without ever losing sight of the larger questions at stake, he calmly demolishes the clich├ęs that have dominated discussions about the Internet. Witty, ambitious, and immensely readable, The Shallows actually manages to describe the weird, new, artificial world in which we now live. (Dana Gioia, poet and former Chairman of the National Endowment for the Arts )

The core of education is this: developing the capacity to concentrate. The fruits of this capacity we call civilization. But all that is finished, perhaps. Welcome to the shallows, where the un-educating of homo sapiens begins. Nicholas Carr does a wonderful job synthesizing the recent cognitive research. In doing so, he gently refutes the ideologists of progress, and shows what is really at stake in the daily habits of our wired lives: the re-constitution of our minds. What emerges for the reader, inexorably, is the suspicion that we have well and truly screwed ourselves. (Matthew B. Crawford, author of Shop Class As Soulcraft )

Ultimately, The Shallows is a book about the preservation of the human capacity for contemplation and wisdom, in an epoch where both appear increasingly threatened. Nick Carr provides a thought-provoking and intellectually courageous account of how the medium of the Internet is changing the way we think now and how future generations will or will not think. Few works could be more important. (Maryanne Wolf, author of Proust and the Squid: The Story and Science of the Reading Brain )

In his new book, The Shallows, Nicholas Carr has written a Silent Spring for the literary mind. (Michael Agger - Slate )

Starred Review. Carr provides a deep, enlightening examination of how the Internet influences the brain and its neural pathways. Carr’s analysis incorporates a wealth of neuroscience and other research, as well as philosophy, science, history and cultural developments ... His fantastic investigation of the effect of the Internet on our neurological selves concludes with a very humanistic petition for balancing our human and computer interactions ... Highly recommended. (Library Journal )

Absorbing [and] disturbing. We all joke about how the Internet is turning us, and especially our kids, into fast-twitch airheads incapable of profound cogitation. It's no joke, Mr. Carr insists, and he has me persuaded. (John Horgan - Wall Street Journal )

The subtitle of Nicholas Carr’s The Shallows: What the Internet is Doing to Our Brains leads one to expect a polemic in the tradition of those published in the 1950s about how rock ’n’ roll was corrupting the nation’s youth ... But this is no such book. It is a patient and rewarding popularization of some of the research being done at the frontiers of brain science ... Mild-mannered, never polemical, with nothing of the Luddite about him, Carr makes his points with a lot of apt citations and wide-ranging erudition. (Christopher Caldwell - Financial Times )

This is a measured manifesto. Even as Carr bemoans his vanishing attention span, he’s careful to note the usefulness of the Internet, which provides us with access to a near infinitude of information. We might be consigned to the intellectual shallows, but these shallows are as wide as a vast ocean. (Jonah Lehrer - The New York Times Book Review )

You really should read Nicholas Carr's The Shallows . . . Far from offering a series of rants on the dangers of new media, Carr spends chapters walking us through a variety of historical experiments and laymen's explanations on the workings of the brain . . . He makes the research stand on end, punctuating it with pithy conclusions and clever phrasing. (Fritz Nelson - Information Week )

The Shallows certainly isn't the first examination of this subject, but it's more lucid, concise and pertinent than similar works ... An essential, accessible dispatch about how we think now. (Laura Miller - Salon )

If you retain any residual aspirations for literary repartee, prefer the smell of a book to a mouse and, most important, enjoy the quiet meanderings within your own mind that can be triggered by a good bit of prose, you are the person to whom Nicholas Carr has addressed his riveting new book. (Robert Burton - San Francisco Chronicle )

The Shallows isn’t McLuhan’s Understanding Media, but the curiosity rather than trepidation with which Carr reports on the effects of online culture pulls him well into line with his predecessor . . . Carr’s ability to crosscut between cognitive studies involving monkeys and eerily prescient prefigurations of the modern computer opens a line of inquiry into the relationship between human and technology. (Ellen Wernecke, - The Onion A.V. Club )

Persuasive ... A prolific blogger, tech pundit, and author, [Carr] cites enough academic research in The Shallows to give anyone pause about society's full embrace of the Internet as an unadulterated force for progress . . . Carr lays out, in engaging, accessible prose, the science that may explain these results. (Peter Burrows - BusinessWeek )

Another reason for book lovers not to throw in the towel quite yet is The Shallows...a quietly eloquent retort to those who claim that digital culture is harmless—who claim, in fact, that we're getting smarter by the minute just because we can plug in a computer and allow ourselves to get lost in the funhouse of endless hyperlinks. (Julia Keller - Chicago Tribune )