Are iPads, smartphones, and the Mobile Web rewiring the way we think?
Multitasking on smartphones, iPads, and the Mobile Web makes some feel smarter and others just more scattered. Is it changing how we think?
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Others say they just have an innate feeling that Carr and his ilk are on to something. John Miedema, who lives in Ottawa, says that he can tell the different between reading online and in print. "The quality of the memories feels different" online, says Mr. Miedema, the author of the book "Slow Reading." "The quality of the memories is less rich than it is when I read more slowly."Skip to next paragraph
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His "aha" moment, Miedema says, was when he read Carr's explanation of the difference between quick skimming and scanning on the Web, which lodges in the brain's short-term memory and is quickly lost, and the long-term memories that a more thoughtful kind of slow reading provides. "I share Nicholas Carr's feeling that my brain has been rewired," he says.
Among the pet peeves of those critical of online reading are hyperlinks, those underlined words or phrases that when clicked on take the reader to another Web page. "The Web is almost built for distraction," Miedema says. "The links are designed to take you away from what you are reading." The evidence, he says, is clear. "People don't really read on the Web." They skim, he says.
Some research shows that online browsing doesn't result in learning that really sticks. "We're often not learning when we're multitasking; we're just skimming the surface," Dr. Wolf says.
Even common courtesy can be a victim of our obsession to stay online. In a widely quoted passage in Ken Auletta's book "Googled: The End of the World as We Know it," Google cofounder Larry Page is scheduled to meet with Barry Diller, a high-powered media mogul. But during their meeting, Mr. Page continues to stare into the screen of his mobile device. "[Diller] said to Larry, 'Is this boring?' 'No. I'm interested. I always do this,' Page said. 'Well, you can't do this,' Diller said. 'Choose.' 'I'll do this,' Page said matter-of-factly, not lifting his eyes from his hand-held device."
Some polls and studies seem to back up the "Internet is rewiring brains" argument. Nearly 30 percent of Americans under the age of 45 say using devices like smart phones and PCs increases their feelings of stress and makes it more difficult to concentrate, a New York Times/CBS News poll found last month.
Other polls point to the pervasive allure of being "connected" online. One found that a third of women ages 18 to 34 check their Facebook accounts as soon as they wake up in the morning, even before they visit the bathroom or brush their teeth. And while some 54 percent of teens send text messages by phone to their friends daily, just 33 percent actually talk face to face with them, a poll from the Pew Internet & American Life Project found.
Americans are living more of their lives online. A Harris Interactive poll last winter found American adults surf the Net on average 13 hours per week, not counting e-mails. The number was just seven hours per week in 2002.