June 19, 2008
My Brain Is Changing (Put That Phone Away)
It made its rounds last week, but I only just got to Nick Carr’s Atlantic article on Google, brains, books, reading, and thinking.
I liked it a lot, and I think his central premise — that using the web so much, for so long, is changing the way our brains work — is correct. As with every kind of change like that, it’s a mixed bag: terrific in some ways, awful in others.
Generally of course I’m a fan of the web way of thinking, but as it has wormed its way into the walking, talking physical world — mostly via mobile phones but also via laptop if you’re in an office like I am — it’s started to freak me out.
William Gibson’s got this line that goes something like: “Our descendants are going to think it was quaint that we distinguished at all between the virtual and the real.” And, oh man, to sit around a table at a bar these days, with people phasing in and out to flip open phones and tap text messages to invisible companions — it’s here. For a certain kind of person in a certain kind of place, the virtual suffuses the real and sits alongside it.
And jeez, it’s distracting!
We’re in this odd phase now where technology far outpaces manners and mores, so I think part of the problem is just that nobody knows how to act. (I am no paragon here; I paw my phone for texts, tweets, emails, alerts, and who-even-knows-what as much as anybody else, and mine doesn’t even have a swooshy touch-screen or anything.)
I’m sure we’ll develop better instincts for this stuff. Or get used to it. Or both.
But either way, it’s a pretty special thing for this to be happening so quickly (it’s happening quickly, right?) and to be so aware of it: to see the texture of our inner and outer lives warp and change before our very eyes.