“Once I was a scuba diver in the sea of words. Now I zip along the surface like a guy on a Jet Ski.”
While preparing for this fall semester, I came across the citation for an article from The Atlantic. In mid-2008, writer Nicholas Carr asked, “Is Google making us stupid?”
Carr, a writer and former deep reader, noticed that after a decade of using the internet, he cannot engage with reading like he used to. “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. . . . The deep reading that used to come naturally has become a struggle.” His article suggested that the way the internet works not only changes what we read, but how we read, and perhaps even changes the very way we think.
I’ve addressed the internet’s effect on our lives before, but here I want to address what the internet has done to our ability to read and to engage deeply with text. What Carr says about reading is, I notice, true. After spending more than a decade with volumes of information at my fingertips and with the ability to, in seconds, move from one bit of information to another to yet another, it’s much harder now to engage deeply with any single text.
For me, if I have to scroll down two or three or—gasp!—four times to completely read an article online, well, I’m going to be hard-pressed to do it in a single, uninterrupted session. I’m off, after that first screen’s worth of text, to see what’s trending on msn.com, to peek at the headlines on cnn.com, to check my email again, to maybe order that shirt that I like (that I’ve looked at online five times already). And this is a process I’m likely to repeat not 15 minutes later while trying to read the second or third screen’s worth of text, even though it’s likely that nothing has changed since I last checked those same sites. I’ve come to expect (and maybe at some level, require) my information in convenient bite-sized chunks; in this way, perhaps, I feel I can manage all the information that I will receive during the course of the day. If there’s something long that I must read—or really want to read—I’ll often print it out and save it for a later time, usually when I’ve removed myself from the computer, and even then, I’m still distracted.
Like Carr, I don’t think my experience is unusual. In fact, people’s lack of capacity for deep reading is probably more prevalent today than it was in 2008, when Carr published his article. Read more »