If you haven’t heard, information technology iconoclast Nicholas Carr has a new book coming up called The Shallows: What the Internet Is Doing to Our Brains. The basic case he makes is this: the Internet is altering our brains and making our thinking wider but more shallow.
Carr makes a compelling case, and it’s time for web professionals to start thinking about how we can fix the problem.
Carr lays out his argument in a new piece in the Wall Street Journal. He’s also made the case in this Wired article.
The WSJ is also running Clay Shirkey’s response to Carr – or actually, they may have just asked him whether the Internet was making us stupid, because Shirkey’s piece doesn’t seem to specifically address Carr’s arguments and it doesn’t mention Carr at all.
Jonah Lehrer has a review of Carr’s book as well.
I haven’t read Carr’s book yet, so I’m having to go on reviews and Carr’s Wired and WSJ pieces. But I haven’t seen any critic of Carr’s yet make substantial argument that Carr is wrong about what’s happening to us. Lehrer compares Carr’s concerns about the Internet to Socrates’s concerns about writing. But Socrates didn’t have the sort of evidence Carr does. Nor was Socrates making quite the same sort of argument Carr is…
What strategies, short of complete dis-engagement from the Internet (which I don’t think Carr advocates) can we adopt to preserve our attention spans? Periodic disengagement? Deliberate, daily monotasking? Zazen? More disciplined web surfing strategies? People in the “lifehacking” community have been working on things like this for years.
What can those of us involved in creating the web – as writers, designers, developers, publishers, etc. do to improve the experience of reading online. Can we makes sites and write content that actually help people focus?
For example, Carr suggested putting links at the bottom of articles instead of inline. I think that’s an over simplistic solution, but I think we can be more strategic, more mindful of how we integrate links into our texts (for this article, I put background info at the top, and added in the occasional additional link as necessary, and will include a few things at the end). I don’t know yet what the best solution will be, but I do believe that we ignore Carr’s research at our own peril.