Although the worldwide web has been around for just 20 years, it is hard to imagine life without it. It has given us instant access to vast amounts of information, and we’re able to stay in touch with friends and colleagues more or less continuously.
But our dependence on the internet has a dark side. A growing body of scientific evidence suggests that the net, with its constant distractions and interruptions, is turning us into scattered and superficial thinkers.
I’ve been studying this research for the past three years, in the course of writing my new book The Shallows: How the Internet Is Changing the Way We Think, Read and Remember. But my interest in the subject is not just academic. It’s personal. I was inspired to write the book after I realised that I was losing my own capacity for concentration and contemplation. Even when I was away from my computer, my mind seemed hungry for constant stimulation, for quick hits of information. I felt perpetually distracted.
Could my loss of focus be a result of all the time I’ve spent online? In search of an answer to that question, I began to dig into the many psychological, behavioural, and neurological studies that examine how the tools we use to think with — our information technologies — shape our habits of mind.
The picture that emerges is troubling, at least to anyone who values the subtlety, rather than just the speed, of human thought. People who read text studded with links, the studies show, comprehend less than those who read words printed on pages. People who watch busy multimedia presentations remember less than those who take in information in a more sedate and focused manner. People who are continually distracted by emails, updates and other messages understand less than those who are able to concentrate. And people who juggle many tasks are often less creative and less productive than those who do one thing at a time.
by Nicholas Carr