"When we adapt to a new cultural phenomenon, including the use of a new medium, we end up with a different brain. ... That means our online habits continue to reverberate in the workings of our brain cells even when we're not at a computer. We're exercising the neural circuits devoted to skimming and multitasking while ignoring those used for reading and thinking deeply."
The quote is from Nicholas Carr's book, The Shallows: What the Internet Is Doing to Our Brains. His thesis is that our transition to using the Internet instead of reading books and doing traditional long-form research is changing the way we think. We're losing our ability to concentrate on a singular task or idea for longer periods of time.
I think he's probably onto something ... Oh wait, I have to check this email. Be right back. Okay, it was just an offer for penis-enlargement pills. Nevermind. Don't need 'em. So anyway, back to the subject at hand: how the Internet is destroying concentration.
I spend my workdays on the Internet, and I know Carr has hit upon a very real problem. I've been writing columns for publications for more than 25 years. It used to take me much longer, because if I needed to cite a quote or look up the population of Cleveland or figure out how to spell "callipygous," I'd have to turn to the big shelf of reference books I kept in my office. I had Bartlett's Familiar Quotations, Roget's Thesaurus, Webster's New Abridged Dictionary, a world atlas, and a bunch more that I can't remember now, because I put them all in a box a couple years ago. Wait, let me google "reference books." Be right back ... Oh yeah, I also had Robert's Rules of Order, Who's Who in America, and a lot more I won't bore you with.
Now, of course, all the reference material I could ever want or need is a keystroke away. So there's a flip-side to Carr's thesis: Back in the day, it would take me several hours to craft a 500-word column, and much of that time was dedicated to searching through books. Now, with research a click away, I can finish my column in ... Wow, just got a Tweet that the Grizzlies' Darrell Arthur is out for the season! Crap. That's going to mess up this week's cover story. Oh wait, no, here's a text from Chris Herrington. He's already on it, revising as I write this. Pshew. Cool.
Wait, what was I saying? Oh yeah. Merry Christmas and Happy Holidays. If you're on my email list, look for my e-card.
It's deep in a November night in Memphis, and I'm awakened by rain. It's coming down hard, sounding like a million pebbles hitting the roof. The gutter I've been meaning to clean is overflowing outside the bedroom window. A flash of lightning illuminates the room, and I do what I've done since I was a boy: count the seconds 'til the thunder rolls. I get almost to 10 before I hear a distant rumble. Two miles or so. Someone else's lightning ...