If you’re reading this, you may already be a victim. Driven to distraction with the Internet, you are well on your way to becoming part of the “pancake people” phenomenon.
Those of us – and we are many – who have fallen under the spell of instant gratification, information overload, and easy access, are at risk of mirroring the World Wide Web that we are so intimately connected with: “Spread wide and thin” like pancakes, as playwright Richard Foreman describes the Western culture.
If you find it difficult to read long essays, rarely ever read books, and find yourself bouncing from link to link, skimming instead of actually reading, you’re in danger of growing flat. What’s missing from today’s computer-centered thinking is “deep reading,” which leads to deep thinking.
Allow Yourself Time to Think
“Sound bites, text bites, and mind bites are a reflection of a culture that has forgotten or become too distracted by and too drawn to the next piece of new information to allow itself time to think,” writes Maryanne Wolf, developmental psychologist at Tufts University and the author of Proust and the Squid: The Story and Science of the Reading Brain.
She worries, as do I, that the “digital glut of immediate information” threatens to erode intellectual effort. What will we be left with?
Screaming goats and Harlem Shake videos, for starters.
This is what competes for our attention when surfing the Net. But it’s all so entertaining and, well, distracting. In part it’s easy to consume because it’s quick. Harlem Shake videos are capped at thirty seconds. Screaming goat videos are often shorter.
I ask you, is Google making us stupid?
“Apparently, it is,” Super Savvy Carolyn answered, when I explained these inexplicable video crazes.
Is Six-Second Brevity the Soul of Wit?
Shakespeare’s long-winded Polonius in Hamlet ironically proclaims that brevity beats beating around the bush, leaving us to ponder exactly how and where this applies.
Pare viewing time down to a mere six seconds with Twitter’s new app, Vine, which boasts creativity-boosting acumen in its super-short video looping. Like Twitter, with its 140 character limit, Vine hopes to launch unexpected inspiration through similar constraints.
The shortened writing trend in twin culprits Tweeting and texting continues to promote, if not creativity, short-circuited thinking. A far cry from email, and our parents and grandparents thought that was a sad move from the now-archaic handwritten exchange.
“Searching for Dummies”
Don’t get your digital reading brain all in a tither just yet. The studies on how all this short-and-quick information decoding and viewing affects our thinking aren’t complete.
One study suggests that for people with prior Internet search experience – that’s you and me – our brain’s neural circuitry is improved. “Your Brain on Google: Patterns of Cerebral Activation during Internet Searching” leaves us with hope, which tends to spring eternal.
Further hope is from a review in the Journal of Communication (ISSN 0021-9916) on the books The shallows: What the Internet is doing to our brains, by Nicholas Carr, and You are not a gadget: A manifesto, by Jaron Lanier, showing there’s little evidence that our minds are being warped by Internet consumption.
The alternative, however, is unthinkable.
As technology visionary Edward Tenner wrote in the New York Times in 2006, “It would be a shame if brilliant technology were to end up threatening the kind of intellect that produced it.”
Have you experienced mind-altering repercussions from so much Internet exposure? Do you worry about how this affects the way we think? Let me know your thoughts.