Nicholas Carr examines how the Internet is affecting our brains
So we're slowly becoming blind to the value of pertinent information over useless information?
Yes, we're losing the ability to resist the impulse to flit around and be distracted, and really dig into sophisticated levels of thinking. We have to resist our primitive instincts to gather any information that's available to us.
Early technologies, like the printed page, were very good at encouraging us to focus on one thing at the sacrifice of all others. But the computer screen -- particularly the net-connected computer screen -- encourages us to divide our attention.
Do you think this has changed modern culture?
Yes. In the process of training ourselves to absorb information in little tiny bits, culture has changed to support that. You see this in everything from movies to books to magazine articles; they tend to get shorter and simpler and distributed more in small chunks rather than in ways that require deep attentiveness. Culture has adapted to our small attention spans.
Do you see a clear differentiation in minds that have grown up with the Internet since birth and those who were introduced to the technology as adults?
We all have human brains, and the effects of the Internet have impacted us all the same. In fact, studies show that -- at least until recently -- people's Internet use hasn't skyrocketed until their twenties. It has tended to be once you entered the workforce and you're in front of a computer all day, that you saw a spike in Internet use.
Now that's begun to change, and we're seeing the technology pushed down to people of younger and younger ages. And one thing we know about the brain is it's at its most adaptable when we're children, so the more time children spend online, the more pronounced the negative and positive effects of the Internet will be. But the effects don't differ with age, just the level of impact.
A recent study shows that, given a choice, more teenagers are choosing access to the Internet over access to a car. What do you think this says about how the Internet is affecting culture?
Yeah, it's kind of sick. I mean, with a car the impulse is to go out and explore the world; with a computer screen it's a very different impulse -- it's more insular. You might be tapping into a lot of different conversations and information, but you're not stretching yourself in a way that happens when you go out into the world.
The evidence is mixed on this, though. You can argue that people are communicating more intensely with friends and family now, because in the past you had to be physically next to them, or at least near a phone, to talk to them. But there's other evidence that the quality of conversation, the subtlety, is diminished when you're sending these brief messages through texts or tweets. But it's probably too early to really know the full affects of the Internet on our social lives.