July 17, 2013
Best-selling author Eleanor Brown asks if the Internet is killing our ability to concentrate and analyze.
Something strange is happening to my brain: it can’t keep still.
And not in a good way. My mind is restless, hungry, desperate for a constant flood of input. At traffic lights, I reach for my phone to check Twitter. I click a hyperlink to an article that sounds interesting and give up halfway through because it’s too long and I can’t stay focused. Instead, I post something on Facebook, then return again and again to see how many likes and comments it has gotten.
I’m guessing that a number of you recognize these symptoms in yourself. As a novelist and reader, I find their effects are disturbingly obvious, but our new frantic, distractible consciousness affects us all.
When former Wired writer Nicholas Carr documented these changes in an article for The Atlantic, he titled it: “Is Google Making Us Stupid?” His research turned up an unsettling answer: yes.
He expanded that research into a book that was a finalist for the Pulitzer Prize: The Shallows: What the Internet Is Doing to Our Brains (W.W. Norton and Company, 2011). I approached reading it with a sense of relief and dread. Finally, I thought, someone can explain why my mind is changing. But finally, I feared, someone will tell me that the Internet has destroyed my capacity to think.