Friday, June 13, 2008

What's the internet doing to our brains?

Thanks to the ubiquity of text on the Internet, not to mention the popularity of text-messaging on cell phones, we may well be reading more today than we did in the 1970s or 1980s, when television was our medium of choice. But it’s a different kind of reading, and behind it lies a different kind of thinking—perhaps even a new sense of the self. “We are not only what we read,” says Maryanne Wolf, a developmental psychologist at Tufts University and the author of Proust and the Squid: The Story and Science of the Reading Brain. “We are how we read.” Wolf worries that the style of reading promoted by the Net, a style that puts “efficiency” and “immediacy” above all else, may be weakening our capacity for the kind of deep reading that emerged when an earlier technology, the printing press, made long and complex works of prose commonplace. When we read online, she says, we tend to become “mere decoders of information.” Our ability to interpret text, to make the rich mental connections that form when we read deeply and without distraction, remains largely disengaged.

--Nicholas Carr, "Is Google Making Us Stupid?"


  1. I rarely read magazines these days, but snapped up this issue of Atlantic Monthly when I saw it earlier this week. I also happen to have a copy of that Squid book, received at Christmas -- guess I'll be reading it soon...

    I love the Nietzsche anecdote, showing how technology does change the way we write/think.

  2. What, are they saying that my attention suffers when I try to read my feeds while my kids watch Sesame Street? Say it isn't so!

    I often mark unread the articles I want to give fuller attention to, then try to read them at night after the kids are in bed, or put them in a TBR file that, admittedly, doesn't get opened much. Like my bookshelves--things go there to gather dust.

  3. What kills me is I'll have all these lengthy articles minimized while I wait for the time when I'll be able to concentrate fully on them and the stupid computer will decide to reboot on its own initiative.

    Isabella, the Atlantic is available for free on line once again. I'd thought about subscribing to it on the Kindle, but now I think I don't need to.

    I'm waiting for the paperback in August. I'm surprised the university library hasn't purchased a copy.

  4. One of the pluses of not being able to take the laptop to the pool, I actually have time to read a real bk. I sadly find there are few magazines still worth reading.


  5. Web reading is still reading, so I'm thinking it always has to be better than the passivity and stupidity rendered by television ... and, for me, the web brings my attention to a mass of things some of which I never would have found out about previously and some of which I then settle down to "deep read", in an armchair, from a lovely old codex ...

  6. billy4:31 PM

    you make a lot of sense in that post.

  7. I just wrote about this on my new blog

    Feel free to visit. I'm new to blogging and could really use a reader!

    I've subscribed to your site because I like the looks of the reading list.
    I'm currently reading "Waiting for Godot." I picked it up after reading a recent article about media artist Paul Chan's version of the play in New Orleans.

    Thanks for your leads, links and words of wisdom.


"I don't believe in ghosts, but I see them all the time."

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