Student - March 9, 2011

Internet undermines deep thinking

Daily use of the Internet changes the way we think. Nicholas Carr put this viewpoint last Friday to a packed BBLTHK during his talk on 'Internet and the brain'. Our brains are getting better at processing information, he says, but be aware that the price being paid is a loss of depth.

Carr, author of ‘The Shallows: What the Internet is doing to our brains’, says millions of people are using the Internet every day but we are not aware of the effect this is having on our brains. Years ago, he was reading a book and could not concentrate. He felt the urge to switch screens and click on words. He suddenly realised what was happening. Just as the introduction of the clock changed the way we think about time from a linear process to a recurring phenomenon, so Carr sees the Internet as an intellectual technology that helps our brains to think, search and organize.
Human brains are still able to adapt to new habits even after they are fully grown. Thanks to this so-called neuroplasticity in combination with the Internet, we are learning how to process vast amounts of information coming to us in many different forms at all times of the day. But Carr says this is at the cost of depth: we are not giving our brains enough time to consider things properly and store them. That was a highly valued skill before the arrival of the Internet – think of Rodin's 'The Thinker'.
According to Carr, the new ability to keep in mind a thousand and one things at the same time is not a question of progress but a primitive skill that served us well in prehistoric times. If we want to carry on developing and have new, creative ideas, we must be able to concentrate on things and not get distracted. As always, the solution lies in finding a balance. Give your brains a rest every now and again, and go and read a good book. And don't forget to turn your telephone off.
For many people, our brains are incomprehensible, mysterious objects. Studium Generale is throwing light on the subject with a series of six talks on the secrets of the brain. How do we make decisions, what effect do our surroundings have on these decisions and do we really have a free will? Car was the first, and the second talk, ‘The human decider’, was Tuesday evening at 10.00 in LA13. See www.studiumgenerale.wur.nl for the full programme. 

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