Sunday, June 10, 2012

The Shallows

A few weeks ago I met up with my friend Steph for drinks at a new cafe in town that I recently discovered. It was a gorgeous day so we sat out on the patio and then went for a walk through Uptown Waterloo and browsed in the shops. We ended up in a bookstore where I picked up a few books from the bargain bin. As I was paying I made a comment about hoping I could concentrate long enough to actually read them. I'm finding that my ability to lose myself in a book for hours on end like I could when I was a kid is gone. I was questioning if it has just been the books I've been reading (are they not that interesting?) or conditioning from working as a receptionist for so many years where you're constantly interrupted. The owner of the book store asked me to wait and he went and pulled a book from the shelf entitled "The Shallows: What the Internet is Doing to Our Brains". I almost never buy full priced books but this one looked so interesting that I just did it. And luckily it was. The book itself is pretty full of stats and results of studies and surveys but the bottom line is that the inability to concentrate that I am feeling isn't unique to me and the culprit is actually the internet!

One passage that really stood out was near the end.

"The influx of competing messages that we receive whenever we go online not only overloads our working memory; it makes it much harder for our frontal lobes to concentrate our attention on any one thing. The process of memory consolidation can't even get started. And, thanks once again to the plasticity of our neuronal pathways, the more we use the Web, the more we train our brain to be distracted - to process information very quickly and very efficiently but without sustained attention. That helps explain why many of us find it hard to concentrate even when we're away from our computers. Our brains become adept at forgetting, inept at remembering. Our growing dependence on the Web's information stores may in fact be the product of a self-perpetuating self-amplifying loop. As our use of the Web makes it harder for us to lock information into our biological memory, w're forced to rely more and more on the Net's capacious and easily searchable artificial memory, even if it makes us shallower thinkers.

The book talks about the lull of electronic stimulation and how our brains have been reshaped and reformed to need it. On one hand it's a bit depressing but on the other, it's nice to know that I'm not the only one feeling like this and it CAN be reversed. It just takes dedicated time to rework those neural pathways. Interesting stuff!

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