Shallow Thinking or Multidimensional?

About four years ago, I had the humbling experience of forgetting a dinner/concert engagement with a friend. I knew it was coming up, but for some reason thought it the following week. I had always been pretty good at remembering things, so I was quite shocked when my friend called around 6 pm to ask where I was. What a rush! I made the concert, but the dinner was lost. As a consequence of this lapse in memory, I began using my computer calendar with its pop-up reminders to keep track of my schedule. As long as I put the date and time in correctly it worked like a charm. I chalked up my faulty memory to the effects of aging and moved on.  This week, however, I just finished reading a book that suggests there might be another reason for my forgetfulness — the internet.

The Shallows: what the internet is doing to our brains by Nicholas Carr, claims that our technology is transforming our brains and maybe not in ways that we would wish. Apparently the multitasking, quick click and surf of the internet is rewiring our brain cells to absorb many things at once but on a very shallow level. We read small snippets of text, listen to short sound bites and never getting into the real meat of things. As a result we are losing our capacity to explore subjects in depth and learn complex ideas. (Opps … I haven’t lost you have I?) Research studies reveal that when people read material in an internet format of multiple links and sidebars (like you find on an iPad or Kindle), they actually absorb less information than someone reading the same material without these distractions. The same is true of completing mental tasks. Those who rely on user friendly computer help, learn a task slower then people who just follow directions. And worse, they forget it sooner. According to Carr, we are losing our capacity to focus. And our children, with their early introduction to computers, probably never learned to focus in the first place. I always thought ADD was the result of poor nutrition, but it may in fact have more to do with computer games.

The book got me thinking about my own experience. I often go to my computer with a plan to do a particular task only to realize two hours later that I completely forgot about it. I have note cards on my desk reminding me of what I need to accomplish, but the allure of the email takes me off in a million other directions. Because of my years of working in an office where my assignments were communicated by email, I am conditioned to check my email frequently. It is a habit that often breaks my concentration and causes me to lose my train of thought.

Recently, I signed up for a entrepreneurial coaching program and was quickly inundated with emails from the Facebook postings of other students. They were responding to one of my own posts, so my evening quickly evaporated in a stream of clicking and commenting. My head was aching when I finally slipped into bed several hours later. Next morning, when I awoke with my brain still hurting, I was ready to jettison it all: computer, internet, coaching — the works, and reclaim that serene life of taking walks and thinking thoughts, before the dawn of the computer age. After my usual morning yoga which alleviated some of my gloom and doom, I sat down for meditation. To my astonishment I found I was able to meditate with much greater focus than ever before. My left brain, it seems, had gone offline.

In Leonard Shlain’s book The Alphabet Versus the Goddess, it is hypothesized that deep reading stimulates and develops the left side of the brain, while multitasking, scanning the environment, making quick decisions on what to notice, also known as intuition, are the realm of the right brain. The rule of the left brain has been going on for centuries and, according to Shlain, resulted in a world of violence, self-interest and domination of women. He suggests that with the advent of radio, television and the computer and their non-linear, right brained platforms for distributing information, we are gradually  balancing the two sides of the brain. You have to read his book or watch his video to catch all the nuances.

Current history seems to bare Shlain’s thesis out. The last century has indeed shown a gradual empowerment of women as well as a growing interest in right brain areas such as spirituality, personal-growth, and communal consciousness. Even the rational world of science has been dipping into this, seemly more right-brained, realm with its quantum physics and the work of people like David Bohm who declared that reality consists of an “implicate order” where every relatively independent element contains within it the sum of all elements (each part reflecting the whole).

With the arrival of 2012 and our environmental and financial crises, the timing for such a mind-shift couldn’t be better. One theory of nature is its tendency to homeostasis, toward balance. When things get out of whack, there is a corrective mechanism for returning to a natural harmony. Perhaps the internet is part of the plan, to get us thinking in more holistic, interdependent ways. We could use a little more compassion and interconnection with our fellow human beings and fellow creatures, and a lot less selfishness and violence. Ultimately, it is a question of whether humanity will get it together before it destroys itself. Species can go extinct. Nature will survive.

Whether the internet is friend or foe, I would advise that we all practice a bit of caution and some heightened consciousness when using our technological marvels. They will impact our brains and may well determine our survival.

WANT TO USE THIS ARTICLE IN YOUR EZINE OR WEB SITE? You can, as long as you include this complete blurb with it: Grief Transformation Coach Michelle Peticolas, Ph.D. helps people transform their grief with a holistic approach to mind, body and spirit that heals trauma, reframes past attachments and releases limiting beliefs while uncovering a true life purpose and direction. If you’re ready to shift into a whole new way of being with death and loss, a new way of living your life, get Michelle’s complimentary guide, Essentials for Grieving Well at

Speak Your Mind