“Viva la Library!”

But while few parts of the world remain outside its reach, the internet leaves little room for discovery. Our curiosities in the digital environment are not so much sparked as they are confirmed. The system is designed to say “yes” to us, not challenge us. Over time, even the questions we ask begin to take on the smooth, antiseptic quality it was designed to reward. Digitalization has driven us further into ourselves and sects of the like-minded.
But at Google’s heart was a Faustian bargain. Access to a bottomless well of knowledge would come at the cost of us becoming a thinly anonymized data point, the contents of our searches surveilled and transformed into rocket fuel for Google’s online advertising empire. The longer we linger online and follow links, the more monetizable breadcrumbs we leave, and the more eerily personal the advertisements become.
In a meta analysis called “The Online Brain,” Joseph Firth, a mental health researcher at Australia’s National Institute of Complementary Medicine, and John Torous, who directs the digital psychiatry division at the Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center, and other authors, informs us that even “a short‐term engagement with an extensively hyperlinked online environment (i.e., online shopping for 15 minutes)” does a number on our attention spans, compared to reading a magazine, which doesn’t produce the same “deficits.”

Our fractured attention spans are having a clear impact on the way our memory and cognition function, they write. The more we go to Google—or anywhere on the internet—the less likely we are to remember the facts we seek to retrieve. Instead, we remember only where these facts can be found, and consequently become more reliant on the internet for basic recall. Such internet-induced erosions of memory have baleful effects on young adults, the researchers write. They impact the development of a brain region associated with the formation of long-term memory. Come to think of it, I have grown mentally itchy and restless ever since I started Googling things.

As that kid in Iowa City, I was able to plunge deep into books and read for hours on end. But since Google entered my life in my early 30s, I only sink into immersive reading when I travel. Once I’m back on land, and open my laptop, I feel my concentration begin to scatter.
Rebel against The Algorithm. Get a library card.
Have you responded to this post on your own site? Send a webmention! Note: Webmentions are moderated for anti-spam purposes, so they will not appear immediately.