What is the Internet doing to our brains?

“‘Dave, stop. Stop, will you? Stop, Dave. Will you stop, Dave?’ So the supercomputer HAL pleads with the implacable astronaut Dave Bowman in a famous and weirdly poignant scene toward the end of Stanley Kubrick’s 2001: A Space Odyssey,” Nicholas Carr writes for The Atlantic. “Bowman, having nearly been sent to a deep-space death by the malfunctioning machine, is calmly, coldly disconnecting the memory circuits that control its artificial brain. ‘Dave, my mind is going,’ HAL says, forlornly. ‘I can feel it. I can feel it.'”

“I can feel it, too,” Carr writes. “Over the past few years I’ve had an uncomfortable sense that someone, or something, has been tinkering with my brain, remapping the neural circuitry, reprogramming the memory. My mind isn’t going—so far as I can tell—but it’s changing. I’m not thinking the way I used to think. I can feel it most strongly when I’m reading. Immersing myself in a book or a lengthy article used to be easy. My mind would get caught up in the narrative or the turns of the argument, and I’d spend hours strolling through long stretches of prose. That’s rarely the case anymore. Now my concentration often starts to drift after two or three pages. I get fidgety, lose the thread, begin looking for something else to do. I feel as if I’m always dragging my wayward brain back to the text. The deep reading that used to come naturally has become a struggle.”

“I think I know what’s going on. For more than a decade now, I’ve been spending a lot of time online, searching and surfing and sometimes adding to the great databases of the Internet. The Web has been a godsend to me as a writer. Research that once required days in the stacks or periodical rooms of libraries can now be done in minutes. A few Google searches, some quick clicks on hyperlinks, and I’ve got the telltale fact or pithy quote I was after. Even when I’m not working, I’m as likely as not to be foraging in the Web’s info-thickets—reading and writing e-mails, scanning headlines and blog posts, watching videos and listening to podcasts, or just tripping from link to link to link,” Carr writes.

Full article here.

[Thanks to MacDailyNews Reader “Samuel K.” for the heads up.]

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52 Comments

  1. Gosh, and I thought my problems were because of cataracts in my eyes making it difficult to read. Not to mention having two children going through adolescence 8 years apart, making it difficult to have any personal time to read, anyhow.

  2. I haven’t read the full article, but I’d agree with the opinion that computer/internet use, like most forms of digital entertainment, tends to make the human mind spoiled/lazy. Or to put it another way, as humans we tend to be spoiled and lazy any time life is easy and we are catered to, and the digital age just adds to the effect.

  3. I’d say he’s onto something…

    The Internet and other technologies could be causing/contributing to ADD. We’re becoming conditioned to almost-instantaneous information and are brains want to jump onto the next thing rather than focus on the current item.

  4. He might just need to have his vision checked.
    I had the same problem and the same theory. While I was being treated for an eye inflammation, the ophthalmologist discovered that my eyeglass prescription was wrong. The optometrist hadn’t made the proper correction for the astigmatism in my left eye. My glasses had been wrong for two years! The ophthalmologist re-examined my vision and gave me a better eyeglass prescription.

    Now things are settling back to normal—I can read! I can read!—and it is no more optometrists for me!

  5. A decade ago there were complaints that television was causing us to “Amuse Ourselves to Death” and now the trend had continued online. All media is guilty of shortening the attention span. Try sitting through a classic 3+ hour movie. It takes a lot of effort. Same with a novel.

  6. It’s funny he should bring up 2001 because I just watched that movie recently for the first time (hey, I’m 25), and thought it was one of the most boring and excruciatingly slow-paced movies I’ve ever seen. Compared to the pace of modern movies, it’s somnambulistic.

    Be that as it may, this guy’s right. I can sometimes feel my brain getting sucked into the “Web” zone where I’m just skimming through everything at 90 MPH and not really benefiting my soul in any way. That’s why I try to take time to pray and meditate regularly throughout the week free of distractions — it can make my life better in a way three hours of blasting away bad guys on the PS3 never will.

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