I've been trying to read books and printed articles as a balance to online surfing. The nagging voice to "read more books" (sometimes through friends in kind and subtle ways) is finally taking hold. The excuse that my eyes are too sleepy at the end of the day is getting ignored as long as it's before 8:30.
So it was great to find an interview with Nicholas Carr (author of Does IT Matter?) in The Sun (see Carr's blog and home page too), titled "Computing the Cost." It's about how the Internet is rewiring our brains. (The entire March 2009 issue of The Sun is about technology and its effects on us.) By the way, I read the print version.
Apparently we use different parts of our brains for reading a book or other print materials than for reading online. Carr refers to the book iBrain, by Gary Small who studied two dozen people, half of whom had little Internet experience, and half of whom had a lot. Dr. Small and his colleague scanned their brains while they searched the Internet, resulting in different patterns of brain activity. The subjects with little Internet experience showed activity in language, memory and visual centers, typical of someone reading. The experienced Internet users had more activity in the decision-making areas of the brain. Disturbingly, within a few days of surfing, the previously non-users' brain activity resembled that of the frequent users. I haven't read Small's book, but Carr questions whether we are losing a vital part of our brain function that thinks and synthesizes information.
While reading the interview, first off, I felt pretty good about myself for trudging through The Ambassadors week after week, because I have felt, decisively, that on p. 144 I am more easily grasping content than I did at p. 1 or 10 or even 80. It doesn't really bother me that it's taking so long to get through James' novel, because I'm getting through it. And I am finding it possible to sit for longer periods reading it too. Thirty minutes is longer than 15. And 60 is longer than 30. That's about what I'm up to, 30-60.
Second, I recognized that when it comes to information, more is not necessarily better. While access to oceans of information is great on one hand, on the other, a) it is overwhelming and b), as Carr says, we are becoming big flat pancakes with lots and lots of facts in our heads and at our fingertips, but losing deeper thinking skills. If I read a political story, then read four blogs about it, did I give myself a chance to reflect on the event? And what influence will government or other agencies use to control me one day, if I am too reliant on this medium?
Clearly, the Internet's value to become more informed about current affairs, geography, history, literature, the environment, ways to help and not least, meeting friends around the world, is vast. And by limiting information intake I don't mean I want to close my eyes to the world's problems.
I'd like to contain the world in a cup, which of course isn't possible. But I don't mind keeping my world smaller than the Internet and its Googles and Wikis want to pull me into. I think a deeper, more focused world is a richer one.