More on the prospect that the internet makes us dumber. In this case, by rewiring our brains:
Nicholas Carr, a veteran writer about technology, is not sanguine about what he learned about his own Internet-infused brain, much less my brain.
“What can science tell us about the actual effects that Internet use is having on the way our minds work?” he asks. His answer, iterated throughout this often repetitive but otherwise excellent book: “The news is even more disturbing than I had suspected. Dozens of studies by psychologists, neurobiologists, educators and Web designers point to the same conclusion: When we go online, we enter an environment that promotes cursory reading, hurried and distracted thinking and superficial learning. It’s possible to think deeply while surfing the Net, just like it’s possible to think shallowly while reading a book, but that’s not the type of thinking the technology encourages and rewards.”
Carr cites numerous studies to delineate not only the impact on the brain, but also the alterations in brain biology that lead to the impact. It turns out the human brain is a shape shifter, the technical term being “neuroplasticity.” The phenomenon is not easy to explain, but Carr is adept at explaining with as little jargon as possible. “As particular circuits in our brain strengthen through the repetition of a physical or mental activity, they begin to transform that activity into a habit.”
It is not enough for Carr to explain the contemporary brain alterations linked to regular Internet use. He puts neuroplasticity into historical context. He explains how the evolution of a written alphabet, accompanied by development of a standardized syntax (the order of words within a phrase or sentence) altered the human brain. A big difference exists neurologically, it seems, between hearing a story and reading a story on a page.
Reading became more efficient. Readers became more attentive. “To read a long book silently required an ability to concentrate intently over a long period of time, to ‘lose oneself’ in the pages of a book,” according to Carr. Developing that sort of discipline evolved slowly. Because of the Internet, that evolution is halting and apparently reversing.
Sure, Internet users are literate, and highly developed literacy will not disappear. But, Carr notes, in meshing hard science with his personal experience circa 2010, “The world of the screen … is a very different place from the world of the page. A new intellectual ethic is taking hold. The pathways in our brains are once again being rerouted.”
The book cites numerous scientific studies to back up the thesis. I know some of you think I am too dismissive of the findings of modern science, being skeptical of a lot of the climate change alarmism, among other things. I find myself skeptical of this claim also. Are you? If so, what basis do you have for your opinion? If not, should we ban the internet, at least for young people with their developing brains?