You may remember a stir about two years ago over whether the Internet is “making us stupid.” Now that question is being explored in long form, through a book that looks into the issue. And a book is just the point.
The author, technology writer Nicholas Carr, found he struggled to read long, complicated books that he used to enjoy. He blamed it on a kind of brain atrophy he feared had set in because he was spending too much time on the web, racing through e-mail and jumping from hyperlink to hyperlink.
Here’s a possible mechanism for dumbing down.
The brain has only so much “working memory.” Even in traditional everyday life, we’re bombarded with wave after wave of information. Normal brains can process and file away two to four items at a time.
While the web satisfies our primitive instincts for quick visual stimulation, books and other slower forms of learning challenge our minds.
In other words, a caveman is capable of rapid shifts in focus so he can catch his dinner. A leader, on the other hand, needs to be capable of sustained thought.
— Adapted from The Shallows: What the Internet Is Doing to Our Brains, Nicholas Carr, Norton.