Sunday, August 24, 2008

Does Internet style reading change our brains?

We shape our tools, and then our tools shape us.
Marshall McLuhan

Our writing equipment takes part in the forming of our thoughts.
Friedrich Nietzsche

Nicholas Carr published an article entitled Is Google Making Us Stupid? in which he discusses his and other's inability to patiently read long, complex articles and books. Web documents are typically short and linked to other documents, and we often jump away from an article after skimming or partially reading it.

Carr feels that reading this way has altered his brain structure, which explains his impatience when reading long documents. If Carr's hypothesis is true, today's students, who have grown up using the Internet and Web, will not learn well from conventional books and journal articles.

Carr's article spurred quite a bit of online debate and commentary. For example, this Salon article with several pages of comments.

Are our students reading habits really different than their parent's generation? Is this due to the Web or to other media like fast-cutting, MTV-style video? If we are becoming hard-wired skimmers instead of careful readers, what is gained and what is lost?


Joyce Carrico said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
Joyce Carrico said...

This article is very interesting in that it addresses reading habits of students and children’s and as a student and parent this is an important topic.
First, there are several points to be discussed regarding this subject:
Reasons for Reading
a) Reading for quick information
b) Reading for specific information
c) Reading for pleasure
Each reason for reading requires different skill sets. I do not believe that the Internet is responsible for creating a style or behavior of “skimming” is it is just a style that people use to gain quick information. People read for many different reasons and have many different styles.
I can remember my parents reading the entire newspaper, flipping the pages of the Orange County Register, as fast as possible, only stopping occasionally to read an article that interested them. If, nothing was of interest, the flipping of pages (or skimming) continued. Skimming is not a new idea created by the internet.
Skimming cannot be used to obtain detailed information regarding a subject. For example studying to become a brain surgeon requires careful study and good reading habits. I do not want to think that any doctor just skimmed while completing his studies to become a doctor. People can and do have the ability to read detailed and complex material without skimming.
Skimming may or may not be utilized while reading for pleasure. I feel that this could just be a personality type.
The internet is not teaching anyone to be a “skimmer”; I feel that if a person truly wants to read in a slow and comprehensive manner, it is a personal choice.

ccn63 said...

I think Nicholas Carr makes a very valid point, however, I feel the need to make a distinction here. Claiming Google or the internet is responsible for rewiring our brains is like driving into a tree, then blaming the tree for the accident. In today’s world, the way we do things has changed, because the environment and the way we interact with it has changed. We have faster and easier access to more information than our parents and their parents put together. So the tools and skills we use to access, sort through, and pick out what we need, have had to adapt to make it manageable.
The effect computers, information, and the internet have had on the world is mind blowing. You can now order a pizza on-line to be delivered. Filling up at the gas station, takes the swipe of a piece of plastic and no interaction with an attendant. The internet has been a source for reading, shopping, marketing, and more. So depending on how often and how we use it will determine how much of an impact it will have on us individually. If you’re like me and work with computers and the internet, you spend a lot of time skimming through mountains of information and reading what is critical to you. However if you’re a gas station attendant, you might not access or read anything on the internet, so you won’t be as effected. Now when you consider how much computers and the internet have permeated society and the way we work, is it really that surprising some of our habits may change?
If our attention span has shortened, it seems more a result of our habits than technology. I still make it a point to sit down and read a book for fun periodically. Like learning to play an instrument, if you don’t practice, those skills will fade. If we as a society continue to progress, constantly searching for shortcuts without appreciating what the longer road may offer, then we may lose the skills associated with it.