Saturday, April 13, 2013

Is Google Making Me Stoopid? Reflections on The Shallows by Nicholas Carr

The Shallows: What the Internet is Doing to Our Brains by Nicholas Carr is a book that had it's genesis in a 2008 article published in The Atlantic titled Is Google Making us Stupid?. The premise of the article and the book is that our brains are being rewired because of the internet, affecting our ability to think deeply, concentrate, and demonstrate reading retention.

Carr's book was excellent and his case was well made. One cannot argue that the internet does not serve many useful purposes and has many advantages. However, like the advent of the printing press and mass publication centuries ago, the internet is having a profound effect on how humans think and remember. For example, prior to the internet I/we used to commit information to memory to be accessed at a later time; but now are more prone to treat memory as an index system- remembering how and where to access the information rather than the information itself. Carr's other arguments include the structure of webpages and the distractions from following numerous hyperlinks, the necessity for brevity in text on a webpage, and how reading patterns have changed. As a result, concentration and rationalization has decreased dramatically, and we are often settling for brief encounters with many shallow topics rather than plunging deeply into any one of them. I find each of his examples to ring true in my own thinking and life. My brain is different than it was before online access was literally at my fingertips 24/7.

As a Christian and leader within the church, this book served as a powerful reminder and warning how a rewired internet brain affects biblical understanding and comprehension; affecting my walk with Christ.

One weakness in the book is that Carr never answered the questions "so what" or "now what". No remedies or suggestions were given for his observations contained in the 200+ pages. Yet, I have arrived at several personal action steps to use and retrain my brain:
  • when reading books- the iPad, computer, and phone need to be put away in order to reduce distractions and enhance concentration
  • for every 45 minutes of reading, dedicate 15 minutes to reflection and thinking about what has been read (I learned this from a Howard Hendricks book)
  • minimize distractions while at work: email pop up notifications on my computer, background music selection, accessibility of the iPad on my desk all affect my concentration and productivity
  • utilize a plain text Bible for much of my study rather than my study Bible to force me to think about a passage rather than jumping to notes/commentary for others to do the thinking for me (I also learned this from Hendricks)
  • devote time to Scripture memorization, a neglected area for my entire Christian life
  • write and blog more often, permitting me the opportunity to think deeper about topics and express myself
  • become more intentional in my internet usage; minimizing the time of mindless surfing
This is not an exhaustive list and will probably grow over time. I would really like to hear from readers how you believe that the internet has affected reading, thinking, and comprehension and any countermeasures put into place in your own lives (or your kid's lives) to combat it.

Here is the link to Carr's original article (I didn't hyperlink earlier because you may have never come back to this posting): Is Google Making Us Stupid?

Here is the link to the book on Amazon: The Shallows by Nicholas Carr

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