The book discussion group at the College is reading The Shallows: What the Internet Is Doing to Our Brains by Nicholas Carr. My schedule does not fit well with any of the groups. But, I did buy the book. I’ll probably jot some notes here every few chapters to remind myself what I’ve read.
The book opens with some anecdotes from Carr about how his focus has changed since the internet has arrived. He tells how he no longer has the patience for reading longer articles with deep focus. I can empathize since I am recording my thoughts, here, on the internet, so that I do not forget what I have read as I read further. (I also bought the ebook on my phone at the meeting announcing the book group so I wouldn’t forget.)
The second chapter outlines some experiments that have confirmed that the brain is plastic and can learn new things far into adulthood. It includes warnings as well. Cab drivers have enlarged brain areas for spatial visualization, but reduced areas for other memories. Some addictive behaviors are learned. Once a connection is made in the brain it is easier to reinforce that connection that to make a new one. Some old connections may be gone. Furthermore, just thinking about something can reinforce the connection almost as much as doing it. Bad habits are hard to change for these reasons.
I look forward to finding out if Carr can make the implied connection in the rest of the book. That is, can he convince me that behaviors on the internet come at the expense of other areas of my brain, thereby changing the structure of my brain and how I think. Will Twitter and email make it harder to read deeper articles? Will easy access to search engines reduce my memory? I also wonder if he suggests specific exercises to protect the parts of 20th-Century thought that he deems worthwhile.