Wired Magazine: Author Nicholas Carr: The Web Shatters Focus, Rewires Brains. Read the whole article.
We know that the human brain is highly plastic; neurons and synapses change as circumstances change. When we adapt to a new cultural phenomenon, including the use of a new medium, we end up with a different brain, says Michael Merzenich, a pioneer of the field of neuroplasticity. That means our online habits continue to reverberate in the workings of our brain cells even when we’re not at a computer. We’re exercising the neural circuits devoted to skimming and multitasking while ignoring those used for reading and thinking deeply.
Last year, researchers at Stanford found signs that this shift may already be well under way. They gave a battery of cognitive tests to a group of heavy media multitaskers as well as a group of relatively light ones. They discovered that the heavy multitaskers were much more easily distracted, had significantly less control over their working memory, and were generally much less able to concentrate on a task. Intensive multitaskers are "suckers for irrelevancy," says Clifford Nass, one professor who did the research. "Everything distracts them." Merzenich offers an even bleaker assessment: As we multitask online, we are "training our brains to pay attention to the crap."
If our minds turn into magpies, constantly distracted by the next shiny thing, the skills required for deep focus become lost. We need that kind of mind focus to do complicated things, yet we're training it out of ourselves. How do you cure cancer when you're distracted by Twitter and Facebook and oh look! A squirrel!
I think we need to train our brains to focus again, and stop attempting to multitask. We need time offline and undistracted to learn stuff and absorb it. We need to practice learning new and complicated things, like languages, or lace knitting, or wood-turning, or bread baking, or how to grill the perfect lamb steak (Hubby figured that one out this weekend, and it was fabulous!). We need times with all the distractions turned off: no music, no internet, no people, no pets.