Author Nicholas Carr: The Web Shatters Focus, Rewires Brains

The Web Shatters Focus, Rewires Brains

I’m helping make you stupid:

In a Science article published in early 2009, prominent developmental psychologist Patricia Greenfield reviewed more than 40 studies of the effects of various types of media on intelligence and learning ability. She concluded that “every medium develops some cognitive skills at the expense of others.” Our growing use of the Net and other screen-based technologies, she wrote, has led to the “widespread and sophisticated development of visual-spatial skills.” But those gains go hand in hand with a weakening of our capacity for the kind of “deep processing” that underpins “mindful knowledge acquisition, inductive analysis, critical thinking, imagination, and reflection.”

We know that the human brain is highly plastic; neurons and synapses change as circumstances change. When we adapt to a new cultural phenomenon, including the use of a new medium, we end up with a different brain, says Michael Merzenich, a pioneer of the field of neuroplasticity. That means our online habits continue to reverberate in the workings of our brain cells even when we’re not at a computer. We’re exercising the neural circuits devoted to skimming and multitasking while ignoring those used for reading and thinking deeply.

Wired: Author Nicholas Carr: The Web Shatters Focus, Rewires Brains

As I said during my interview with Ashley Crawford (Pay attention here! Don’t click that link yet!), I’m that reading off more limited mobile devices like my Blackberry and my iPod touch is helping me concentrate on reading longer, more substantive material. Reading on my computer, with its tabbed browser, has a tendency to destroy my attention span.

I’m trying to discipline myself to browse first, read later – find stuff of interest by scanning through feeds, Twitter etc, and then go over the stuff I’ve flagged to read before I go back and find more stuff.

Do you have any strategies for navigating the web without destroying your attention span, or do you think that the transformation of our brains could actually be a good thing?


  1. Bill Whitcomb

    May 28, 2010 at 7:35 pm

    “I’m helping make you stupid.” Ah, so that’s *your* fault! Wait…what were we talking about again?

  2. heya, found that printing out articles that i want to read is even more helpful just cause i can then be away from electronic fields all together. i would like to see a study on EM and concentration in general, but i do use a system similar to yours, tabbing and saving for later. sometimes during the day I’ll just dump a crapload of links then email them to myself to later digest. have found the kindle to be a nice and quiet reading experience though.

    somehow grokking it all has been the question for me…always looking for suggestions on that. 😀


  3. I don’t really want to have to print out every single thing I want to read online, so the mobile device thing will have to do until limitless supplies of ultracheap eco-friendly hemp paper are available =)

    Here’s something interesting about the difference between e-readers like the Kindle and tablet computers like the iPad:

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