Nick I think the price we pay for having easy access to so much information usually quick access to so much information is is we sacrifice some of the depth of our of our engagement with that information. So the kind of jumping hopping from bit to bit to bit clicking on links takes the place of what used to be a more er contemplative I I think approach to thinking about one thing. Er whether its one piece of information or the argument or the narrative of a book erm it becomes much harder I think when you're bombarded by information and other stimuli as you are all the time on the web to sit down and really focus on one particular thing. Erm an' so we g' we gain kind of a breadth of engagement with information but the cost is I think a certain superficiality in our relationship to that information.
Nick Yeah erm I - you know throughout my life I've - books have played an important role in them and I've always found it easy to immerse myself in a book and get engaged in an argument or a narrative but a few years ago as my use of the web kind of picked up I found it much much harder to sit down and engage with a book. After a page or two my mind would start wandering - I'd er kind of loose the focus - have to go back a coup' - er go back a page to to to reconnect with the argument and at first you know I thought ok may be this is just general you know age or something that that's causing this. But what I noticed is that the sensation I had when I tried to read or really concentrate on anything was that my brain my mind wanted to behave the way it behaves when I'm at my computer or online. It wanted to check email it wanted to click on links and jump from page to page er so it really - I began to make the connection that you know in in in really in a unmistakable way my use of the net was changing the way I think er in changing my ability to do things like concentrate or or or contemplate one particular er piece of information or or read through 100 pages of a book. An' I I began talking to the other people an' many of them - not all of them but many of them had a very very similar - were suffering from a similar type of affliction. They they felt that they were - had increasingly scatterbrained an' an' they wanted to be online and they wanted to get information very very quickly and they didn't want to sit still an' an' concentrate on anything.
Intv You mentioned that if you were to design the perfect vehicle for brain distraction it would be the internet - it would be the web - can you illuminate that - tell me that and why that might be?
Nick The human brain like any animal brain is attuned to distraction. In a sense it wants to be distracted - it wants to see what's going on in its surroundings so you know its not - it doesn't miss some source of food or isn't attacked by you know a tiger or something. Erm and if you look at the way the internet bombards us with stimuli not only hyperlinks and different pages of information but alerts you know from face book updates to twitter alerts to er you know incoming email and even our phones going off all the time - it creates in in a sense an environment of information that plays to our desire to or our need to be distracted. And so it becomes very difficult to keep a focus on anything when you know five different things are happening at once on your screen or or you know between your screen and your smart phone and so forth an' and its just its just all sorts of environmental stimuli that come through you know this this information medium an' keep us pretty much permanently distracted when we're online.
Intv What's the argument - what is this link between possibly you and some of the other people think that - deep reading and deep thinking - what's the link between those two things and what is a good quality of deep reading and deep thinking?
Nick What reading did for us in particular book reading is it slowed us down - it it took us away from our natural distractedness and forced us to focus on one thing - on a book on a line of argument on a line of text literally often from hundreds of pages in in hours on end and that's a very different er type of thinking that w' than we're kind of naturally used to. So so the book promoted a kind of in depth engagement with ideas - a kind of very deep thinking concentrated thinking contemplative introspective thinking which er in many ways is kind of a unique aspect of that particular medium - the the print on page medium that we that we'd never saw before at least not broadly until the book became popular 500 600 years ago.
Intv Tell me why people think it's a good thing to think and to think big - why is that a good useful tool for humans to engage?
Nick I think I think the great value of thinking deeply an' reading deeply an' concentrating in general is that we begin to develop a unique personality a unique intellect that's ours and ours alone and that requires I think deep thought an' an' in the ability to make our own associations and our own connections about things we understand deeply inside our own minds rather than relying on you know the the the associations and connections that might be out in the world and that we might access through hyperlinks for instance. So er I I I really think that the the human self and the human personality becomes much richer when we can slow down and when we can think deeply an' and engage with information in more than just kind of a cursory manner.
Intv What are the worries is the first generation have may be grown up online have only used the web - what are our big worries as they enter the workplace - do we think we're going to see these traits?
Nick Well I'm I'm a little nervous about drawing a sharp distinction between what we call you know generation web or digital natives in older people adults because what - I think that's too too - that that lets adults off the hook an' they can say oh you know as they always say oh this younger generation they're you know going to hell or whatever. An' an' really the effects of the internet I think are the same on adults as on younger kids an' an' younger adults an' if you look at the statistics its people in the twen' later 20s 30s 40s 50s who are online much more er of the time than say teenagers. Erm so so I would hate to to have the focus on generation web you know make it seem as though though older people aren't affected by the internet because I think they are. And I think what we see in young people - the the distractedness the inability to you know read more than 2 pages at a time is probably coming to to characterise older people in in every generation as well. Having said that you know I think obviously the - the brain is is - the human brain is malleable throughout the course of anybody's life but it's particularly mal' malleable of course when you're young. So if if a person is brought up looking at screens an' an' an' using the web and being bombarded by information then then the question is will the brain circuits circuitry necessary to do things like deep reading deep thinking - will those circuits ever even come into being - will they be wired for that kind of thinking or will they be wired completely for internet type of thinking for for er taking in lots of information very very quickly. Erm an' I think that's the big fear is that w' we'll end up er with with a generation of people who are very good at using the net and very good at finding information and and processing information very quickly but don't really have any capacity for contemplativeness or for concentration er for deep engagement with information.
Intv Is there this big distinction or should we be making a big distinction about information and knowledge what the web provides is information for what we're using is our ability to know what to process that information in a knowledgeable way.
Nick Well people always get into semantic discussions about what's information what's knowledge what's wisdom and I think those are important discussions but I think what the what the web does - what the net does goes much deeper than that. It's not just the form of the information we're taking in it's our ability to make sense of that information to process that information. So it's it's - I think it's at a very deep level in our brain that an' the more we use the web the more we train ourselves to skip very very quickly among many pieces of information er an' we lose the ability to stop an' concentrate and so you could say that the the the outcome of that will be - will have you know access an' an ability to process huge amounts of little snippets of information but we'll we'll kind of begin to sacrifice the ability to er create the associations ourselves among those bits of information that I think lead to er true knowledge an' an' ultimately wisdom