Our Brains and Our Screens

In 2011 Nicholas Carr published a book called The Shallows: What the Internet Is Doing to Our Brains. I read it some years ago and thought it was quite helpful. Although the internet was in full swing back in 2011, things have changed to some extent. Back then, more people went online using their computers in their homes or offices. Today most people go online anywhere using their phones. (Smartphones are basically portable pocket computers.) It is interesting to note that for well over ten years now, scientists and experts have been calling out various detrimental aspects of excessive internet and screen usage. The dangers of internet/screen addiction are real; it’s not a joke when you hear another story of someone stuck to their phone for six to eight hours a day. These people often face serious mental and physical effects and get counseling to overcome the addiction.

Although I didn’t end up in counseling, in 2021 I did get rid of my smartphone and downgraded to a dumbphone. Ironically, my smartphone was making me dumber because it became a major distraction for me. I spend time online, of course, but I have moved to a more digitally minimal lifestyle. Anyway, I don’t think we all have to give up screens and phones and such. But I do think we should use screens and the internet in such a way that they serve us rather than master us (1 Cor. 6:12b).

Back to the book The Shallows. Carr updated the book in 2020, although I haven’t read the updated edition. But I can share some quotes from the 2011 edition to give you some examples of what this book gets into. Although it’s not a Christian book, it is a good one to have if you’re wrestling with screen time and internet usage. Anyway, here are some quotes.

…Dozens of studies by psychologists, neurobiologists, educators, and Web designers point to the same conclusion: when we go online, we enter an environment that promotes cursory reading, hurried and distracted thinking, and superficial learning. It’s possible to think deeply while surfing the Net, just as it’s possible to think shallowly while reading a book, but that’s not the type of thinking the technology encourages and rewards. (p. 116)

One thing is clear: if, knowing what we know today about the brain’s plasticity, you were to set out to invent a medium that would rewire our mental circuits as quickly and thoroughly as possible, you would probably end up designing something that looks and works a lot like the Internet. …The Net delivers precisely the kind of sensory and cognitive stimuli – repetitive, intensive, interactive, addictive – that have been shown to result in strong and rapid alterations in brain circuits and functions. (p. 116).

The faster we surf across the surface of the Web – the more links we click and pages we view – the more opportunities Google gains to collect information about us and to feed us advertisements. …Every click we make on the Web marks a break in our concentration, a bottom-up disruption of our attention – and it’s in Google’s economic interest to make sure we click as often as possible. The last thing the company wants is to encourage leisurely reading or slow, concentrated thought. Google is, quite literally, in the business of distraction. (p. 157)

Even as our technologies become extensions of ourselves, we become extensions of our technologies. (p. 209)

I do think about these things as someone who writes an online blog. But my goal in this blog is not to get you to click and skim and be bombarded with media so I can make a profit. Instead, my goal is to give encouraging, stimulating, and helpful Christian quotes and book recommendations. Or, in other words, I want you not only to be encouraged in the Christian faith through this blog, I also want you to get good Christian books and read them!

The above quotes came from this book (2011 edition): Nicholas Carr, The Shallows: What the Internet Is Doing to Our Brains.

Shane Lems
Hammond, WI, 54015

%d bloggers like this: