Is the Internet Bad for Brain Health?

Surfing the Web stunts our intellectual development, author argues; learning to focus can help.

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Web users, pay attention: In The Shallows: What the Internet Is Doing to Our Brains, author Nicholas Carr contends that Web surfing is rewiring our minds, breaking our focus and creativity along the way.

"The computer screen bulldozes our doubts with its bounties and conveniences," Carr writes. "It is so much our servant that it would seem churlish to notice that it is also our master." Surveying the latest research in neuroscience and psychology—while mixing in philosophy and media history—Carr argues that digital distractions prey on our attention and ability to form new memories, thus preventing our minds from tapping their full intellectual and creative potential. Though some researchers believe that bouncing around the Web gives the mind valuable mental exercise, Carr worries that persistent multitasking just might "impede our ability to control our thoughts."

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But while the world of screens may be reformatting our brains, we aren't powerless to stop the process short of irreversible disrepair. With balance and discipline, experts say, we can keep our minds sharp without giving up Google or Twitter. "Single-tasking" for regular intervals helps Portland, Ore.-based digital marketing strategist Adam Boettiger focus as he spends at least eight hours a day online. You could also practice "deep reading," taking the time to absorb a text and allow the mind to sink into contemplation, says Maryanne Wolf of Tufts University, author of Proust and the Squid: The Story and Science of the Reading Brain. Reading deeply, even for 15 to 20 minutes at the beginning or end of the day, can enhance critical thinking processes and keep us from turning into what Wolf calls "the Socratic nightmare—the truly superficial reader."

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