jonmca July 08, 2008 12:51 pm

It seems to me Nick Carr may be confounding several different ideas. While it's probably true that our brains work differently when we use computers (research done as far back as the 1950s demonstrated that watching television caused viewers to exhibit alpha wave EEGs) it seems doubtful that computer use by adults permanently rewires neural connections. Brain scan studies might be helpful in exploring this thesis. A suggestion to Nick: Go on an extended vacation in a remote location without a computer, cell phone, TV, etc., and bring a dozen or so books. I bet after you've read the first book or two your "deep diving" reading abilities will return. Also, the use of computers and the Internet is embedded in a much faster-paced society than existed even 25 years ago. The information skimming Carr notes is necessary when our lives are structured around so many tightly timed commitments and activities. Just consider cell phones, GPS, fast food, iPods, soccer practice, Netflicks, adult learning, etc., etc., in western urban societies. It seems to me that within the context that Carr discusses, Internet use is just one of the more visible elements in a very broad pattern of social change in regard to our use of time. That being said, the existence of the Internet actually brings to reality a much more profound potential impact on humankind. That is: the Internet as a central catalyst for massive societal change due to the broad availability and coordinated sharing of information that it provides. More people now have access to more information on more subject areas with less investment of time than in all of recorded history. This unprecedented information availability as a driver of social change may terrify all those who think they must preserve the status-quo, but the Internet will be essential for effectively managing the earth's resources on a plant-wide scale. We just need to have the will and the insight to put it to that use.