You’re reading an article online. An email pops up, you follow the link to YouTube, think it’s funny and share it on Facebook. You then spend 20 minutes commenting on other people’s stuff and, hours later, you’ve fallen down the Internet rabbit-hole and achieved nothing.
Here’s the worst part: The instant access and distraction of the Internet is actually making us stupid. Nicholas Carr, author of The Shallows: What the Internet is Doing to Our Brains, explains that the Internet is an information rich environment that encourages compulsive behaviour like checking smartphones, glancing at the inbox, and living in a perpetual state of distraction and interruption.
So why is it making you dumber? This mode of thinking actually crowds out focused, contemplative thinking — which is how we learn. Learning happens through memory consolidation — when information is transferred from your short-term memory to your long-term memory, building up knowledge.
Let’s say you’ve just had the king of ideas. It’s sitting in your short-term memory waiting to be contemplated. But you hear an email bing, and your parked brilliant idea is replaced by a grumpy cat. And it’s gone.
So what if it’s all on Google anyway? If we lose control of our attention, or are constantly dividing our attention, we never get around to the consolidation process and learn new things.
While useful, the Internet can rob us of thinking conceptually, critically and creatively, hamstringing the building of knowledge.
So, the best thing we can do is to find time every day to unplug and focus on doing just one thing at a time. Your email and those cats can wait.
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