"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.
Exactly seven years ago this week, I wrote a column decrying a proposal by city engineers to turn the Overton Park Greensward into an 18-foot-deep "detention basin" designed to stop flooding in Midtown. The engineers claimed we'd hardly notice the football-field-sized bowl. "Except," I wrote then, "when it rains hard, at which time, users of Overton Park would probably notice a large, 18-foot-deep lake in the Greensward. Or afterward, a large, muddy, trash-filled depression."
The U.S. Civil War ended in 1865, but there are many who will tell you that we're still fighting it and will find evidence of such in Jackson Baker's cover story about the current battle over General Nathan Bedford Forrest's statue and gravesite in Memphis ...