"The genius of our brain's construction is not that it contains
a lot of hardwiring but that it doesn't."
- Nicholas Carr, The Shallows, 31.
It's not bad enough that television kicked our attention spans' collective asses, but it prepared the way for an all out annihilation to it, which has come in the form of the internet. Email, social media, IM: these all play a part in distracting our minds from whatever productive task we have on our TO DO lists. Cory Doctorow, as quoted by Carr, writes that "leaving your IM running is like sitting down to work after hanging a giant 'DISTRACT ME' sign over your desk, one that shines brightly enough to be seen by the entire world." When I think of the telephone ringing, the doorbell sounding, the dogs barking at something only they can hear, the thought of having another potential distraction is more than irksome.
I'm going to say that Carr, in The Shallows, makes some rather sobering points regarding the internet's changing of the human brain. And, as he passingly mentions, the answer is obviously not to stop using the internet at all costs. Luddites have a difficult time uniting, with their lack of technology, which is the reason their way of thinking is an exception to actual social acceptance of the technology they fear and loathe. But I, for one, don't want my brain to be changed in such a way that I am unable to read long, difficult works of literature, and I hope you don't want that for your brain, either.
A good idea, then, is to follow the Buddha; i.e. follow the middle path. Use the internet to skim information, to grasp the main points of knowledge and to share our own knowledge with others; but, use books and other less distraction prone media for developing depth. Old fashioned books for depth; new fangled internet for breadth.
Otherwise subsequent generations' attention spans won't be as long as their eye-blinks.
LINKS: Cory Doctorow: Writing in the Age of Distraction