If the mobile Internet is similar to the regular Web, chances are you’ll never finish reading this post. According to Nielsen, the average American looks at a web page on average for 56 seconds. Other research indicates that Web surfing may change your brain’s chemistry.
In a Wall Street Journal article called “Does the Internet make You Smarter or Dumber,” Clay Shirkey and Nicholas Carr argue about the Internet’s effects on reading and thinking. While the articles remind me of a communications class I took in college about Marshall McLuhan (you know, “the medium is the message” guy), the authors raise interesting questions about the Internet’s effects on our brains’ ability to think.
Mobile Internet, Web and Media Bad for You?
- Most Internet content is written by people who don’t know what they’re talking about. They’re some exceptions, like Wikipedia or PatientsLikeMe, but only because articles are scrutinized by thousands of other people who know something about the subjects. “Whenever media become more abundant, average quality falls quickly.” Shirkey cites YouTube funny videos where the content varies from excellent to pretty raunchy.
- He thinks that digital media (“our digitally driven stupidity”) is leading us to ruin. “This issue isn’t whether there’s lots of dumb stuff online…in bookstores. The issue is whether there are any ideas so good today that they will survive into the future.”
- The danger of media, Shirkey says, is putting up with the bad stuff while the good stuff evolves. “Increased freedom to create means increased freedom to create throwaway material, as freedom to indulge in the experimentation that eventually makes the good new stuff possible.”
- Carr focuses more on how the Web and, possibly, the mobile Internet distracts us. “…The Net, with its constant distractions and interruptions, is also turning us into scattered and superficial thinkers.”
- Links in web pages are bad. “People who read text studded with links… comprehend less than those who read traditional linear text.”
- Multi-tasking, while on the Internet, makes you a zombie. “People who are continually distracted by emails, alerts and other messages understand less than those who are able to concentrate…people who juggle many tasks are less creative and less productive than those who do one thing at a time.”
- Playing video games may be good for you. “…Certain computer tasks, like playing video games, can enhance ‘visual literacy skills,’ increasing the speed…people can shift their focus among icons and other images…”
- Computers and cell phones permanently change your brain. “The cellular structure of the human brain….adapts readily to the tools we use…By changing our habits of mind, each new technology strengthens certain neural pathways and weakens others. The cellular alternations continue to shape the way we think when we’re not using the technology.” Carr writes about research showing we’re “remodeling” our brains using the Internet and other media.
- Reading books is good. Skimming the Internet is bad. “If the slow progression of words across printed pages dampened our craving to be inundated by mental stimulation, the Internet indulges it. It returns us to our native state of distractedness, while presenting us with far more distractions than our ancestors ever had to contend with.”
Media, whether print, radio, television, the Internet and now mobile, have always caused concern throughout human history. Only time will tell how mobile devices change brain chemistry and the way we think.