â€œDave, my mind is going,â€ HAL says, forlornly. â€œI can feel it. I can feel it.â€
I can feel it, too. Over the past few years Iâ€™ve had an uncomfortable sense that someone, or something, has been tinkering with my brain, remapping the neural circuitry, reprogramming the memory. My mind isnâ€™t goingâ€”so far as I can tellâ€”but itâ€™s changing. Iâ€™m not thinking the way I used to think. I can feel it most strongly when Iâ€™m reading. Immersing myself in a book or a lengthy article used to be easy. My mind would get caught up in the narrative or the turns of the argument, and Iâ€™d spend hours strolling through long stretches of prose. Thatâ€™s rarely the case anymore. Now my concentration often starts to drift after two or three pages. I get fidgety, lose the thread, begin looking for something else to do. I feel as if Iâ€™m always dragging my wayward brain back to the text. The deep reading that used to come naturally has become a struggle.
While the Web is wonderful, it is having a subtle and profound effect. Though it helps us search for and get answers quicker, it seems to be changing the way we read, process information, and think. The art of the "deep read" is giving way to the "power browse." We used to be comfortable scuba diving into a sea of words and thoughts. Now, we seem to be a culture of jet skiers who dart along the surface. Have we lost the patience and mental energy for the heavy lifting of intellectual reading?
While the evidence of this shift is largely anecdotal at this point, I confess that my own reading habits seem to be getting sloppier. I have perfected the art of starting a book and never finishing it I read my emails like I read through blogs ... power skimming and often missing critical details. I struggle to read articles now because my attention span has grown used to blog posts. The scarier thought for me, however, is that the Web may be reprogramming the way I think too.
Carr's essay is 4000 words long. I know that is a heavy read for us blog readers, but I encourage you to read it all and weigh in with your thoughts about Carrâ€™s thesis.