Jeff (hereafter known as "Anonymous Jeff") sent me a great link to answer the question "What is the Internet doing to our brain?" I commend it to your attention (Full disclosure: it is 18 minutes long and has a least one loud, rather annoying advertisement):
In short (for those like me that struggle watching You Tube videos) the Internet capitalizes on our inherent desire to gather information but continually floods our short term memory (which can hold 2-4 thoughts at a time) such that those thoughts cannot transfer to long term memory, which is where items go to be retained and where deep thinking and insights occur. We have increased our visual acuity, but abandoned the ability to think deeply in the process.
(An interesting side note is that the speaker points out that the Internet companies - Facebook, Google, Amazon - capitalize on this need to constantly seek new information. If it truly is doing harm to our ability to think, is it not fair to ask if they are really "Doing No Evil"?)
So I suppose the more important question is what can we do - really, what can I do - to combat this?
Well, we always go by the Rule of Five, right?
1) Decrease the Smart Phone Use: I remember when I got my first piece of mobile technology - a pager, back in 1996. I remember the fact that it was cool because you could get texts on it and news updates. How far we have come.
Or maybe not. Let us be honest: a smart phone is almost compulsive for me now - and most of that use is not for communication (which is what the darn thing is supposed to be used for). So cut it. Stop using it for non-communication purposes. Decrease the reliance upon it for information, not increase my dependence on it.
2) Cut Back On News Sites: I have already gone through this exercise at least twice in the last year, but I still find myself clinging to some level of being up to the minute engaged with the workings of the world - as if that was somehow going to change face of the world. Time purge the list - much more completely this time.
3) Focus: If you are like me on the Internet, going to one thing almost inevitably leads to going to another. And another. Before long I am 15 pages deep learning about 17th Century Poland when what I was really looking up was the Yen to Dollar conversion rate. Fight back by getting on for the information, getting the information, and getting off.
4) Read: Yes, I know. Reading is so 20th Century. We do everything via videos and postings now.
But when one reads, one is tied to the thing one is physically reading in one's hand. I cannot just skip over to something else (well, maybe the conclusion) because I would have to put the book down and start something else. The nature of the activity forces me to be only on that activity.
5) Think: This is the hardest of all. To consciously decide rather than constantly gather new information, I am going to compile and ponder the information that I have. Not that there is anything wrong with new information - just that I should be using the information I have more effectively.
There is a silent sixth, of course; Use the Internet less and "old fashioned" means more. Which, of course sounds like a Luddite response - although it strikes me that perhaps many Luddites lived perfectly happy lives with less visual acuity and more thought.