Monday, March 4, 2013


This is your brain on the internet.

Your brain is being inevitably changed. Your flexible brain is adjusting and adapting to the new ways you are reading and working.

So now your reading is scattered. You are unable to pay attention for very long. And forget spending the evening rereading that nice long classic that you enjoyed so much in your twenties.

As you read-- on the screen, of course- -you dip into a snippet and dive after a tidbit. You follow hyperlinks to unsuspecting destinations, and then venture after still more.

Will you find your way back to where you started?

Do you remember what you were searching for in the beginning?

 When you talk with your spouse, your children, your co-workers, you are not looking them in the eye. You are checking your phone, your iPad, your computer to see if that one email, text, photo or expected attachment came.  To see if any emails, texts or photos came.

You are addicted to this checking—you do it compulsively.
You jump slightly and hold your breath as the ding that alerts you to new incoming whatever.

 You are always on, always connected, everywhere, anytime.This is your brain on the internet, according to Nicholas Carr in his book, The Shallows: What the Internet is Doing to Our Brains.

You may want to  listen to (or read) the  interview with Nicholas Carr on NPR's All Things Considered.

This is your brain on the internet.

You are researching an article.  You are only checking the hyperlinks that look promising and fit your intended goal for this work period. (You might be marking to read later anything that is unrelated, but interesting.)  

You hear the ding for email, but you are at a crucial point in your search. You take a deep breath-- and you ignore the beckoning call to travel down an unrelated path.

You keep working for an extended time, having learned that focusing on your breathing can call you back to your work, and away from the distractions that wait at the end of hyperlinks, ever deepening, unending web searches, entrancing multimedia presentations, dings and vibrating buzzes.

You take a brief break  to now check whatever dinged a half hour ago, to get a drink of water, to stretch, to breathe….

Then you return to your work.

 You have the capacity and the choice  to be connected anywhere, anytime.

Your brain is being changed. Your flexible brain is adjusting and adapting to the new ways you are reading and working.

This could be your brain on the internet according to Howard Rheingold as described in his book, Net Smart: How to ThriveOnline.

You may also want to watch Rheingold in this Net Smart trailer.

 I am, or course,  presenting the extremes and have oversimplified the positions and theories of both authors. 

But if we put these positions at either end of a continuum, we all fall somewhere in between, considering how we view the internet, and how we operate within that space.

Both authors agree that the digital world is changing the way we think, work, read, write, socialize, and interact with our world.

Both authors agree that ourflexible and adaptable brains are physically changing as a result the new digital opportunities and distractions.

They differ in what they see as the future consequences for us and our world-- and where this new technology is leading our brains. What do you think?

How do we grow and evolve in this ever-changing digital world?

Do we disconnect? 

Or do we educate/train ourselves and our children to thrive in this new online world?

See prior related post, Digital Pros and Woes.

Today’s Deeper Writing Possibilities

Try one or more of these suggestions to simply observe how you attend and to what:

Sit with your eyes closed for one minute and observe what happens in your mind.

When working on a specific task (online or offline),  note when and how often you change your focus to a different task.
What led to the change?   How long before you returned to your original task? Is there a difference in this behavior, depending whether you are online or not?

While involved in one task,  note whether there is something which you did not notice/recognize until it has been there a while or after the fact. ( ex. ringing phone, noise outside, etc)

When reading your email--pay attention to your breathing- do you hold your breath?
Researcher Linda Stone calls this email apnea.

Write about you observations.

You may want to start with the line This is your brain on the internet...  

You may want to write a personal narrative or essay.

You may want to write in the manner of scientific field notes, an article for publication in a popular magazine or an article for an academic journal. 


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