Wednesday, February 25, 2009

Dumbing Down By Wiring Up

It was inevitable that someone would make the connection sooner or later - too much multitasking is making us stupid. So suggests Robert Roy Britt in his article "Is the Internet Warping Our Brains?" While this is certainly fodder for my classmate over at (Dis)Engaged to tackle, since it applies directly to my struggling little brain (and those of other wired women) I am going to take it on as well.

A few interesting stats to throw your way (compiled from
With growing connectivity and participation we may be able to come together more, but conversely we may find our attention spans shrinking due to media overload. I've had this sneaking suspicion for a while now. More recently in conversations I find myself doing what I call a "reboot" from time to time. Someone will be talking to me, I tune out and go into "sleep mode" for a second, and then I quickly jolt back and have to pick up the threads. This is a little scary, and though I've been attributing it to the stress of a full time job, 3 classes, wedding planning and (when time permits) the rest of life, I fear that the many hours I spend online, watching TV and checking my iPhone (we used to all have the need for a "third space" now many of us have a "third screen") are causing serious brain damage.

Nicholas Carr expressed his concern more eloquently in his article "Is Google Making Us Stupid?" in The Atlantic this past summer. He says,

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.

That is precisely how I feel when I try to read books for school lately. Carr goes on to say that his exposure to the Internet and New Media are the cause of his disconnect, and that Google's desire to influence the way we consume so they can collect our data plays a big part in changing the way our brains function.

Since my laptop has done me the favor of melting down over the weekend, it will be easier for me to go home tonight and not jump right back online. I will fight the urge to turn on the TV, put my phone in its charger and sit on my couch taking in the eerie calm of the real world - that is, if I still can remember what that is.

cartoon from