Web Surfing Has Rewired My Brain


I'm going on vacation for a couple of weeks. I know, you'll miss me terribly. I'll try to write.

Actually, I'll try to read.

Perhaps you, like me, are reading less lately. Not reading less of your e-mail or diversion-at-work Web sites or the random bits of information you Google up a googolplex times a day. Just reading less like you used to when it seemed you could kill a whole day ripping into a book or a few lengthy magazine pieces.

One of the few periodicals that come into our house containing such lengthy pieces that I generally get to right away is The Atlantic. And its latest cover story has an interesting theory about why this has happened. It asks the question, is Google making us stupid?

The author, Nicholas Carr, says he uses the Web as many of us do, constantly, at work and at leisure. He thinks it might be rewiring his brain. To wit:

“What the Net seems to be doing is chipping away my capacity for concentration and contemplation. My mind now expects to take in information the way the Net distributes it: in a swiftly moving stream of particles. Once I was a scuba diver in the sea of words. Now I zip along the surface like a guy on a Jet Ski.”

Scary, right? And sounds true. There's so much information to keep up with these days to stay conversationally competitive at work, informed about politics and world events, current with friends and family. It needs to be packaged and absorbed efficiently. Books for me have gotten relegated to a few pages before falling to sleep at night, if that.

So I'm making a conscious effort. I stuck with my last book a little longer than I sometimes do, giving it time to take before abandoning it, and I found I got a little of that mojo back and was able to read it for more continuous stretches of time. Very encouraging. We'll see how I do with the next one. Taking it one book at a time.

We're going to Europe so I probably won't have an Internet device anyway. If I watch television I hope and assume much of it will be the ongoing Euro 2008 international soccer (football) tournament, even though it takes place at night over there, not during the day as I've gotten accustomed to watching it here, on ESPN. (Work diversion.)

Televised soccer is part of my rewiring strategy. Forty-five minutes of play before the clock stops at the half. More than 45 minutes, really, because they add in whatever time gets wasted by players lying on the ground injured. The same thing in the second half. Sometimes no goals get scored at all, but fans don't really mind. Sometimes scoring no goals is considered a victory, if the team you don't support is favored. Might be an analogy there to lengthy reading for its own sake.

Right, probably not. Just part of my other non-reading lifestyle choice, watching television.

Technology has changed that, too. More of what I watch now is pre-selected by the programming in my digital video recorder — gathered by a search engine — and less is the random discovery of something magnificent on one of the hundreds of channels available. (Mental note: clean out DVR before vacation; make room for soccer.)

But I'll be untethered from hybrid fiber coax for a couple of weeks and will limit my selective information searches to whatever English-language periodicals I can find, and guide books. Maybe a random novel or two.

Read any good ones lately?