Don’t make me think?

The article Is Google making us stupid? published in The Atlantic examines the way the Web influences the way we read – and think. Many users have the impression their attention span for reading longer articles and books has decreased with the use of the Web, and the author supports this impression with results from neurological and psychological experiments. The way we skim information on the Web has an influence on the way our brain works, i.e.

We can expect […] that the circuits [inside our brain] woven by our use of the Net will be different from those woven by our reading of books and other printed works.

As a usability consultant, I feel I am not unaccountable for this development. We support the hectic, unconcentrated behavior of our users and proclaim rules for writing online texts quite contrary to what we learnt at school: Not to substitute nouns with synonyms to make a text more varied, not to use figures of speech or word-play (not to mention irony or allusions) because they are imprecise or ambiguous. Not only do we support the behavior the author of the article bemoans, but trends in artificial intelligence which treat terms open to interpretaton as bugs to be fixed. What is at stake is that

In the quiet spaces opened up by the sustained, undistracted reading of a book, or by any other act of contemplation, for that matter, we make our own associations, draw our own inferences and analogies, foster our own ideas.

So see for yourself if you are still able to concentrate on an article of over 4000 words (more than 5 A4 pages on my printer) peppered with historical examples in the best scholarly tradition. If you can, I’m sure you will enjoy – that it makes you think.


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