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The Shallows
What the Internet Is Doing to Our Brains
Nicholas Carr
read on March 1, 2012

So the key take-away here is that relatively recently (in the last 40 years or so) - we've discovered that human brains actually change during their lifetime. Turns out this effect is significant, and can happen very quickly, and has very strong influence over the way that we actually think. It's called plasticity.

Essentially - the internet is teaching us to consume information in tiny little chunks, very very quickly. We're beginning to learn and think and remember things in significantly different ways than ever before, which is changing our personalities as well as our achievements. The book talks about how we're doing more and more short form reading and skimming, and how we don't remember things as well anymore because there really is no need to (we can just look it up instantly). The promise of the early internet was that it would allow all people to know so much more - that by the democratization of information we would all be more knowledgable - but the very opposite has happened. By and large, the internet actually allows us to know much, much less than ever before. Instead, we just learn how to look things up.

And the consequences of that are pretty major. Carr talks about a study that looked at all the citations in all academic, peer reviewed journals over the last 50 years or so. Naturally, one would expect that the variance and number of citations would increase in the 90's, when everything was digitized and more easily accessible. But the opposite happened. In the late nineties the citations in peer reviewed journals became significantly more concentrated than ever before. This was because, instead of actually doing research, people just use the same search engines and all get the same results - (which then makes those things rank even higher in subsequent searches).

Anyway - pretty creepy stuff, and that example is just scratching the surface. The internet is significantly changing the way we think and how we do things, probably quicker than ever before. Will be interesting to see how things end up. Great book.

Author Bio:

Nicholas G. Carr (born 1959) is an American writer who has published books and articles on technology, business, and culture. His book The Shallows: What the Internet Is Doing to Our Brains was a finalist for the 2011 Pulitzer Prize in General Nonfiction.