So it turns out that perhaps the reason I can no longer concentrate or think deeply is not because I’m preoccupied and undisciplined, but because I’ve googled my brain into oblivion (or maybe it’s a little of both).
I recently heard an interesting interview on NPR with Nicholas Carr, author of The Shallows: What the Internet Is Doing to Our Brains. Over a period of several years of increased internet use, Carr noticed a decrease in his ability to concentrate on books or long articles. In his words, “The deep reading that used to come naturally has become a struggle.” In the interview, he states:
“Neuroscientists and psychologists have discovered that, even as adults, our brains are very plastic. They’re very malleable, they adapt at the cellular level to whatever we happen to be doing. And so the more time we spend surfing, and skimming, and scanning … the more adept we become at that mode of thinking.”
And the converse also appears to be true: we become less adept at deeper, one-track modes of thought. Maybe this is old news to you. We’ve all heard similar stories—in the interview, Robert Siegel brought up the “Sesame Street is destroying kids’ attention spans” theory as one (questionable?) previous iteration—but what really caught my attention about Carr’s version of the theory was his use of the word “contemplative”:
Carr argues that even if people get better at hopping from page to page, they will still be losing their abilities to employ a “slower, more contemplative mode of thought.” He says research shows that as people get better at multitasking, they “become less creative in their thinking.”
If what Carr says is true, our constantly connected, inseparable-from-technology lifestyles are actually making our brains worse at contemplative connection with God and worse at thinking in creative ways that image His creativity.
I’m not planning to become a hermit or a techno-apocalypse proponent… I’m just wondering what affect all this multitasking is having on my soul. At the very least, Carr’s arguments highlight our deep need for practicing contemplative disciplines like silence, meditation, and spiritual listening. I also think it calls for a shift in our habits and lifestyles—I think if I only turned on my computer when I needed it for something, I would find myself surfing and multitasking far less. And I think it would be worth it.
And yes, I am aware of the irony of my blogging about this. Ha!