Vannevar Bush meets Nick Carr in Atlantic Monthly – What the Internet is doing to our brains

Atlantic Monthly magazine has been around for a long time, and it was the platform for one of the most important articles of the 20th century – As We May Think, by Vannevar Bush, published in 1945 as a call for scientists who had collaborated so well during wartime to maintain that momentum and use their skills to solve the peacetime problems of humanity. The specific issue he concerned himself with was how to manage the growing amount of knowledge that was being accumulated:

Science has provided the swiftest communication between individuals; it has provided a record of ideas and has enabled man to manipulate and to make extracts from that record so that knowledge evolves and endures throughout the life of a race rather than that of an individual. // There is a growing mountain of research. But there is increased evidence that we are being bogged down today as specialization extends.

In the 1960s and 70s many believed that the internet would be the answer to Bush's problems. But has it just made them worse? This summer Atlantic Monthly has published Nicholas Carr's cry from deep inside the mountain of info-stuff we now wallow in. Is Google making us stupid? he asks.

Over the past few years I’ve had an uncomfortable sense that someone, or something, has been tinkering with my brain, remapping the neural circuitry, reprogramming the memory. My mind isn’t going—so far as I can tell—but it’s changing. I’m not thinking the way I used to think. I can feel it most strongly when I’m reading. Immersing myself in a book or a lengthy article used to be easy. My mind would get caught up in the narrative or the turns of the argument, and I’d spend hours strolling through long stretches of prose. That’s rarely the case anymore. 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. I feel as if I’m always dragging my wayward brain back to the text. The deep reading that used to come naturally has become a struggle.

We are now not so much bogged down, as in Vannevar Bush's day, but skimming across. Carr writes "My mind now expects to take in information the way the Net distributes it: in a swiftly moving stream of particles. Once I was a scuba diver in the sea of words. Now I zip along the surface like a guy on a Jet Ski."
Read Carr's article. It's a powerful admission of something we all need to face.
x-posted from http://travelsinvirtuality.typepad.com/suethomas/2008/07/vannevar-bush-m.html

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