Tuesday, August 9, 2011

The Shallows, by Nicholas Carr

I've been working through a book called The Shallows: What the Internet is Doing to Our Brains. In the book, Nicholas Carr makes the case for why the medium of the internet actually molds some of the "plasticity" of the brain so as to make us less able to participate in "deep reading." For Christians, this has huge implications on us as we are to be "people of the Book." If we are unable to "Eat this Book" as Eugene Peterson says, we will be unable to grow more fully into the people God means for us to be. In chapter 7 called "The Juggler's Brain," Carr writes:

... What can science tell us about the actual effects that Internet use is having on the way our minds work? No doubt, this question will be the subject of a great deal of research in the years ahead. Already, though, there is much we know or can surmise. The news is even more disturbing than I had suspected. Dozens of studies by psychologists, neurobiologists, educators, and Web designers point to the same conclusion: when we go online, we enter an environment that promotes cursory reading, hurried and distracted thinking, and superficial learning. It's possible to think deeply while surfing the Net, just as it's possible to think shallowly while reading a book, but that's not the type of thinking the technology encourages and rewards.

One thing is very clear: if, knowing what we know today about the brain's plasticity, you were to set out to invent a medium that would rewire our mental circuits as quickly and thoroughly as possible, you would probably end up designing something that looks and works a lot like the Internet. It's not just that we tend to use the Net regularly, even obsessively. It's that the Net delivers precisely the kind of sensory and cognitive sitmuli- repetitive, intensive, interactive, addictive- that have been shown to result in strong and rapid alternations in brain circuits and functions. With the exception of alphabets and number systems, the Net may well be the single most powerful mind-altering technology that has ever come into general use. At the very least, it's the most powerful that has come along since the book.  The Shallows, pp. 115, 116

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