Positive Vision - Day 99
Rabbi Avrohom Neuberger
Our weekly excerpt from the book "Positive Vision"
5. Cognitive Damage
Noted thinker Nicholas Carr, author of The Shallows, has this to say: “The Internet … has a trade-off. As we train our brains to use it … what we lose is the ability to pay deep attention to one thing for a sustained period of time, to filter out distractions. … What the web seems to be doing, and a lot of the proponents of the web seem to be completely comfortable with, is pushing us all in the direction of skimming and scanning and multitasking, and it’s not encouraging us or even giving us an opportunity to engage in more attentive ways of thinking … that … are actually the most valuable ways of thinking that are available to us as human beings.”
As in many other areas, in the area of knowledge the Internet is providing us with quantity over quality. TMI (“too much information”) is a syndrome well-recognized by Internet users. The glut of information makes it difficult to identify the relevant nuggets. This difficulty is compounded by hyperlinks and search engines. The average time spent on a web page is less than a minute. We rush from one eye-catching tidbit to another without processing what we are reading. Even what is gleaned is quickly lost; studies show that this type of skimming does not allow for transfer of information to long-term memory.
All this sounds pretty bad, but it is not the worst thing. The true horror is in what this behavior is doing to our ability to learn and study. Habituated to being constantly hyper-stimulated by new snippets of information, we lose the ability to follow long, involved arguments. Reading a book becomes a chore rather than a delight. Our core means of intellectual pursuit are weakened, and through increased disuse, become atrophied. One of the gedolei Roshei Yeshivah of our generation said that the damage to the future of Klal Yisrael posed by bachurim who cannot concentrate in learning or grasp a Tosafos may be greater than the danger posed by the inappropriate material on the Internet.