Charlotte Mason understood…
“We have lost sight of the fact that habit is to life what rails are to transport cars. It follows that lines of habit must be laid down towards given ends and after careful survey, or the joltings and delays of life become insupportable. More, habit is inevitable. If we fail to ease life by laying down habits of right thinking and right acting, habits of wrong thinking and wrong acting fix themselves of their own accord.” (Vol. 6, pg. 101)
As we continue our look at The Shallows: What the Internet Is Doing to Our Brains, we need to ask the question: “What can science tell us about the actual effects that Internet use is having on the way our minds work?” The Internet provides sensory and cognitive stimuli that is repetitive, intensive, interactive and addictive, resulting in massive alterations in brain circuits and functions.
Author Nicholas Carr relates a study done at UCLA of 24 volunteers, half experienced Web users and half novices. After monitoring brain activity at the beginning of the test they noticed very different responses between the two groups. The groups spent one hour a day for five days online. Remarkably after only five hours, the researchers found that the novices’ brains had already been rewired. (pg. 120-121)
Studies have been done on long-term and working short-term memory. We rely on our brains to transfer information from our working short-term memory into long-term memory. When we are reading deeply, we are filling a tub, so to speak, in a steady drip. We can then transfer much of that information, drop by drop, into our long-term memory. With the Internet, however, we are turning many faucets on full blast. We are unable to process all the information thereby suffering from cognitive overload. Some have attributed ADD/ADHD to the overloading of working memory. (pg. 125.)
Not only does what we are doing while online have neurological consequences, what we’re not doing has consequences as well. “Just as neurons that fire together wire together, neurons that don’t fire together don’t wire together. As the time we spend scanning Web pages crowds out the time we spend reading books, as the time we spend exchanging bite-sized text messages crowds out the time we spend composing sentences and paragraphs, as the time we spend hopping across links crowds out the time we devote to quiet reflection and contemplation, the circuits that support those old intellectual functions and pursuits weaken and begin to break apart. We gain new skills and perspectives but lose old ones.” (pg. 120)
But doesn’t the Internet, with thousands of sites, search engines and sound bites increase our efficiency in researching and learning? A study done by University College London found Internet users exhibiting a form of skimming, hopping from one source to another, not reading in the traditional sense. Power browsing through titles, content pages and abstracts is more common. The researchers concluded that, “There is absolutely no question that our brains are engaged less directly and more shallowly in the synthesis of information when we use research strategies that are all about ‘efficiency,’ ‘secondary (and out-of-context) referencing,’ and ‘once over, lightly.’” (pg. 136-137)
Obviously in a brief blog article, I can only begin to scratch the surface. I encourage and challenge you to read The Shallows. As Christians we are called upon to confront the culture. What will be the impact if we continue on the path of exchanging hyperlinks for ideas? We’ll conclude next time by examining these issues.