What does the way in which we use the vast resources of the internet say about us as a species? According to web lore, the internet was created for the purposes of sharing research material and data across impossible distances. From this need, the ability to transmit binary code across phone lines was eventually refined, and today we skype, Tweet, and rack up credit card debt at the speed of light.
As I attempt to refrain from engaging in “cursory reading” while moving through Nicholas Carr’s “The Web Shatters Focus, Rewires Brains,” I find it difficult to not ask this larger question, to in a sense deconstruct Carr’s issue with focus, the internet, and the human brain (1). What does this choice we have made toward frivolity, with the help of the greatest pedagogical and educational resource ever known to mankind, say about our core desires and needs? Do we need information and efficient minds, or distraction from our condition?
At the center of Carr’s argument lies the “highly plastic” human brain, and, in turn, his message becomes one of speculation. It is not a question of the path we have chosen to push our collective grey matters down, but the path we have avoided, the reasons being what they may. The computer has changed our world, changed the abilities and personalities of the common man born and raised with the world at his fingertips. Furthermore, as Carr reports, this new world is one of “skimming and browsing,” even with matters that need thorough attention. And provided the medium of perspective, this discovery and consequent change is akin to man finding fire, protein, the ear of corn, the wheel. The difference being we have no model of the pre-fire, pre-agriculture neural map to reminisce about and bemoan the lost attributes that we cannot fathom and do not miss.
The truth is that we only understand the way our brains were through our lens of being the current technological masters-of-the-universe, and we are far too close to ourselves, too self-examining of each detail, too locked into staring down our bleak futures to fret for our lost attention spans. The internet’s negative effect on the human brain is a topic for future generations to evaluate, but we do have the power of choice. For instance, what do you think the ratio is between things you have discovered through the internet versus things you have yet to discover? And, are not all studies such as this subject to those chosen to participate? Somewhere, at this very moment, someone is working to cure cancer, to discover or construct garbage-eating microbial life-forms, or building models to de-carbonate our atmosphere, using both the computer and an internet connection.
Carr, Nicholas. “The Web Shatters Focus, Rewires Brain,” Wired 2010. Print.