Your Brain on the Internet
Nicholas Carr, the author of The Shallows, says the Internet is doing damage you’re not even aware of.
To your brain. The way you think.
It’s what I expected to hear:
we’re rewiring our brains, to our detriment.
But what I didn’t expect to hear so bluntly was this:
“We are training our brains to pay attention to the crap,” says Carr, quoting Michael Merzenich.
That’s a little harsh, wouldn’t you say?
Too easily distracted
Carr says studies show our online habits have given us technology-induced ADD. They make us too easily distracted by “irrelevant environmental stimuli,” even when we’re not online.
Carr doesn’t write from a Christian viewpoint, but I see definite implications, especially when he says things like this:
The more distracted we become, the less able we are to experience the subtlest, most distinctively human forms of empathy, compassion, and other emotions.
…It would be rash to jump to the conclusion that the Internet is undermining our moral sense.
It would not be rash to suggest that as the Net reroutes our vital paths and diminishes our capacity for contemplation, it is altering the depth of our emotions as well as our thoughts.
That could be a problem.
What about Christians?
As believers, our second great commandment is to love others. How can we effectively do that if we’re losing touch with “the subtlest, most distinctively human forms of empathy, compassion, and other emotions”?
Carr doesn’t offer solutions to our Internet problems, but he does give this:
A series of psychological studies over the past twenty years has revealed that after spending time in a quiet rural setting, close to nature, people exhibit greater attentiveness, stronger memory, and generally improved cognition.
I draw my own conclusions: use the Internet for what you need, but don’t live there. Monitor your use. And when you get off, make sure you do things like: take a walk on your lunch break or sit on a porch swing with your neighbor or sit still to concentrate on a book, a scripture, a prayer.
Periodically disconnect from the constant distractions of the Internet.
But The Shallows is about much more. It’s part history, part technology, part medical, part culture… But because I wasn’t interested in every topic, I used my Internet-developed brain and scanned my way through, stopping only for what was interesting and useful to me.
Chapter 9, Search, Memory, was the most interesting to me. Carr shows the difference between artificial memory, which is static, and biological memory, which is alive, perpetually renewing itself.
Don’t try to replace one with the other. Use each for what they’re best at. Don’t let quick access to information on the Internet lure you into thinking you no longer need to rely on your own memory. You do.
The bottom line for me:
The Web is great; I’m not about to give it up. But like any other man-made thing, I don’t want to put my faith in it. It’s a tool, and one that can be used for God’s glory, if used properly.
Carr referenced this Psalm in The Shallows.
May we pay close attention.
Their idols are silver and gold, the work of human hands.
They have mouths, but do not speak; eyes, but do not see.
They have ears, but do not hear; noses, but do not smell.
They have hands, but do not feel; feet, but do not walk; and they do not make a sound in their throat.
Those who make them become like them;
so do all who trust in them.
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How does the Internet affect you?