Wednesday, July 21, 2010

Summer Reading...

Though focused on tackling the German language (at least at a reading level) and reconnecting with friends and community members, this summer is as usual filled with a varied list of books and ideas to absorb.

Most certainly a great read is The Shallows by Nicholas Carr, the content of which is of pertinent importance. The source of his The Atlantic article, The Shallows investigates the ways the internet as a communication /research tool shapes the brain in both its physical makeup and patterns of thought. Rather than attempting to place a moral value upon the internet and its existence, Carr spends his time more wisely on the reality that our ability to utilize the deeper cortices of the brain is atrophying as internet use expands to encapsulate almost every waking moment of our lives.

As an example, take the activity of reading a magazine article in print form as compared to an internet website. In general the print form is clear of clutter and the text is most easily accessible with little distraction except perhaps for an advertisement in the margin. The internet page, in contrast, involves ads, hyper-links, multi-media etc. And so physically our brains spend more energy in the frontal cortex which is used to make practical decisions. For example, the front cortex lights up when we are driving and taking into consideration the road, signs, speed, traffic patterns etc.

So, the end result is that the energy that would normally be spent in the deeper cortex where the brain does its deep thinking and is able to synthesize ideas, concepts, patterns etc., the brain shifts energy to the frontal cortex as we decide "click that link or not" or "see that ad, that pop-up" etc. This is why I am fascinated by Apple's latest version of Safari to make a web-page clutter free for more easy access to the more pertinent content.

But that is just one small point of the book. The broader issue is whether we as individuals and as a society are losing our ability for wisdom. One could read an entire encyclopedia set but not be the wiser. The vast overload of information so readily at our fingertips does not necessarily equate in grasping the wisdom of ideas.

The average adult only spends something like 27 seconds on a web-page article so I probably lost you already. But if you are still reading this particular posting, I want to be sure to highly recommend this book. It touches upon essential topics for those of us in this fast-paced modern age. The spiritual ramifications are obvious - how are we able to meditate, seek wisdom, etc, in such a context as the modern information age? It's crucial we be aware of how our brains are changing as we strive to seek after Wisdom.

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