I’m going to say something unpopular in this column, but all I ask is a few minutes of your time.
OK, if you’ve already decided you don’t have a few minutes, or you choose not to know my viewpoint because you’re too busy surfing and clicking and texting and friending and sexting and slogging and blogging and spamming and gaming and YouTubing, then this is precisely my point. We have become a nation of screenheads, and our ability — even our desire — to focus on a single topic at a given moment is shrinking.
The best way to understand what’s at stake is to read Nicholas Carr’s book — The Shallows: How the Internet is Changing Our Brains — if you can concentrate that long. For now, I’ll save you the trouble: His underlying premise is based on the principle of neuroplasticity — how our brains continually change according to the way we use them. Case in point: Habitually practicing the piano physically changes the brains of budding pianists. They become better at math and memorization, reading and concentrating, and hand-eye coordination.
Carr argues, with regard to our Internet-related activities, that the better we get at ranging widely and rapidly across the shallow sea of information that lies at our fingertips, the more we lose the ability to think deeply, to contemplate, to consider a topic fully. That kind of study and thinking used to be the path to wisdom. But wisdom — and taking time to develop it — is rapidly going out of style.
For those of us with disabilities, the Internet has been hailed as a great tool, a way to level the playing field. It’s true. I am only able to write and disseminate this column, indeed to hold this job as editor of a national magazine while working from my home, because of the Internet. However, as I discharge my editorial duties, I must also try to keep my ability to contemplate and ponder intact, because it is invaluable to my work. And to my peace of mind.
But there may be a more sinister downside to our hab