Response to “Is the Internet Making Us Quick but Shallow”

Carr, N. (2010). “Is the Internet Making Us Quick but Shallow,” CNN. Retrieved on 2010, June 29.

Nicholas Carr’s article, “Is the Internet Making Us Quick but Shallow,” demonstrates the negative consequences of the internet on the human mind. His article is in response to the media criticism President Obama received after stating that the internet and technological gadgets (i-pad, Blackberry, etc) ‘entertain,’ rather than ‘empower.’ While the media labeled Obama as anti-technology, the author defends and backups the president’s warning statement.

Carr’s biggest criticism of the internet and screen gadgets is that they distract concentration, they hinder comprehension skills, and they weaken creative thought. The internet provides the user with an incredible amount of information and knowledge. However, the trouble lies within the manner in which that knowledge is transferred from the screen into the user’s brain. Links, for example, break and discombobulate information (the information is not provided in a linear and coherent format, such as found in a book) from one page of information to another, and thus causing the reader’s attention to rupture and drift. A case study done at Cornell University shows that laptops distract students in class and prevent them from absorbing information. Thus, domain knowledge and organization of knowledge decreases.

According to the author’s statistics, the average American spends eight hours a day looking at a screen, and American teenagers send and receive 2,000 texts a month. Thus, a number of internet and screen users are receiving pithy statements of information in rapid succession. If what Obama and Carr say is true, how can a product designer create a product that counter balances the negative affects the internet and gadgets have on concentration, comprehension, and creativity? How can they create a product that strengthens domain knowledge and organization knowledge?

Conceptual Design: The product has to rebuild the user’s ability to absorb, comprehend, and store information, which has been lost due to the fast and disjointed display of information on the internet and gadgets. It has to compete with the attention grabbing affects of the internet and screen pad technologies, and demonstrate the benefits it has on building concentration, strengthening memory recall, and improving knowledge retention. The ideal person to build such a product is someone who understands and has worked with wondering minds.

Interaction Design: Since the product is made to encourage and strengthen attention span and the absorbing (not receiving) of knowledge, it will have to be used on a daily scheduled basis over a certain period of time. It will have to retrain the user’s mind into not just receiving brief snippets of random information (such as a friend’s birthday reminder, followed by a ‘breaking news’ alert from CNN, which is then followed by an email from Net-a-Porter promoting its sale) but into concentrating, breaking down, and analyzing one comprehensive story. The danger of such a product is that the user does have the will power, or the desire to set apart the time needed to implement such a product and to improve their mind.

Interface Design: The product pertains to a specific socio economic group and culture, which is one that highly values technology, use the internet for information and to stay in touch with people, need screen gadgets to perform work, and is suffering from the affects of information and sensory overload. Such a product would not pertain to communities who choose to live without technology and the internet.

If you were to ask me what that product would be, I would say it would be a book. In my opinion, disciplining oneself to take time out of the day to sit in quiet solitude and read is the best way to improve attention, compression, and creativity. Through reading, one is forced to break down, analyze, and absorb the author and/or character’s words and concepts. Reading takes patience and practice and therefore encourages mental concentration and discipline. Yet, I must declare that my answer is rather biased. I am a former Comparative Literature student, and thus I am blind to other forms of strengthening the mind’s capabilities, which may include number games or puzzles.