I just finished reading The Shallows: What The Internet Is Doing To Our Brains, by Nicholas Carr. The book stems from an article he wrote a couple of years ago called "Is Google Making Us Stupid?"
His argument: the web makes us worse at deep reading and thinking, makes it harder for us to read books, makes it harder for us to apply the sustained focus necessary to deal with complicated problems, complex arguments, etc.
Some evidence: eye-sensors that show that people skim web sites more than they read them; tests which show lower comprehension from website pages than the same text without hyperlinks and scrolling; anecdotal reports of people not reading books, barely reading long articles, just clicking from place to place.
I don't know what I think of his thesis.
There are definitely days I find it hard to focus. There are definitely hours I waste clicking on things and reading them and I'm not sure any of it is productive. I definitely wish I was more productive, no matter how productive I am on any given day.
I'm not sure I blame the Internet. If it wasn't the Internet, it would be something else. When I was a kid, I spent way too many hours playing baseball-related computer games. (Computer games are not a good counter-argument to the evils of the Internet, but I'm not old enough to have had any pre-technology distractions.) I watched TV. I read books. I believe that if not for the button that lets me check e-mail every three seconds, I would instead be distracting myself by playing with Silly Putty.
But maybe I'm wrong.
And even if I'm not, my own feelings about what he's saying and whether they apply to me personally don't negate his thesis. But I still read books. I might read more books than before the Internet. I certainly read better books than I did before the Internet, because I have more ways to discover books I want to read, and certainly more ways to find them. I read long articles online. I skim lots of stuff, sure. But I used to skim newspapers and magazines too. I don't think I am shallower in my thinking because of the Internet. I think blogging, for a long time, helped me access lots of deeper feelings and thoughts. Certainly e-mail did. I had much richer conversations via e-mail than in person, in a lot of cases. Recently not as many, because people don't seem to write long e-mails anymore, but I've complained (or at least written) about that before and don't need to come back to it again.
In any case, interesting book. Worth at least a skim. I'm kidding. Don't skim it. That would just prove his point.
Next on my list (and I'm 20 pages in already): You Are Not A Gadget, by Jaron Lanier, which is a manifesto about how technology is making us less human. He calls it a manifesto, and so far, it is. In a neat and fascinating way. Compelled so far. Recommended, but it's too early to know for sure if that will change.